Natural Solutions to Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
ADHD — attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — is a commonly diagnosed condition in children… sometimes too commonly, say critics. But the opposite seems to be true when it comes to adults. Approximately 4% of adults in the US suffer from ADHD but many go undiagnosed and unmanaged. The consequences can be serious. ADHD can cause difficulties in relationships, home life and at work — in fact, according to a recent study, adults with ADHD miss an average of three weeks of work each year.
DO YOU HAVE ADHD?
It’s normal to have days when it seems like you can’t keep up with appointments or family obligations or get to the bottom of your to-do list. But if you feel overwhelmed like this every day — and can’t remember not feeling this way — ADHD may be part of the problem. Symptoms include difficulty concentrating and paying attention… poor time management and organization skills… easily getting bored or distracted… making impulsive decisions… misplacing things… chronic lateness… trouble paying bills and managing household chores… difficulty in relationships… and moodiness or low-self-esteem. Of course, at times we all feel distracted or overwhelmed — it’s those who experience these symptoms consistently and on an on-going basis who may, in fact, have ADHD.
ADHD in adults is different than in children, observes Kathleen Nadeau, PhD, director of the Chesapeake ADHD Center of Maryland and author of A Comprehensive Guide to Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults. Adults may feel restlessness and struggle with a relentless flow of distracting ideas, whereas children with ADHD tend to be hyperactive. Additionally, adults may seek stimulation in other ways such as overspending, overeating, getting lost on the Internet, and, in extreme cases, gambling or online porn.
NATURAL COPING STRATEGIES
The good news is that significant strides have been made, not just with conventional treatments but in natural ways to deal with this disorder. Though there’s no cure, sometimes ADHD fades on its own and usually it responds well to treatment. For those diagnosed with ADHD in childhood, the odds of having it in adulthood range from about 30% to 50%. If you are in that category, you may consider these natural coping strategies to improve your quality of life…
FOLLOW AN ANTI-ADHD DIET
While there is no definitive research that any particular way of eating helps everyone with ADHD, many sufferers report relief of symptoms when they follow a healthier diet — and you can’t argue against that. Specific strategies that may support brain function include…
- Avoid food additives and dyes and artificial sweeteners. Studies have linked these with ADHD.
- Cut back on refined foods, like pasta, baked goods and white bread. Sugar and highly processed carbs lead to fluctuations in blood glucose levels and often a corresponding intensification of symptoms.
- Eat protein at every meal. This enhances your metabolism and regulates the rate at which glucose enters the bloodstream.
- Consume fish at least twice a week. Fish such as salmon, halibut and tuna provide the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which support brain function. Other good food sources of essential fatty acids are olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds.
- Have nine servings of fresh produce a day. Leafy green veggies such as spinach and kale are rich in folic acid, which supports concentration and memory. Anthocyanins in richly colored fruit such as blueberries, cherries and red grapes improve cognitive function.
- Limit caffeine intake. Dr. Nadeau cautions that too many cups of coffee can lead to nervousness, irritability and an increased pulse rate.
Mark Stengler, ND, author of the Bottom Line Natural Healing newsletter, told me that people with ADHD are often deficient in vital nutrients. Among the supplements he has found helpful in treating patients…
- Vitamin B. B vitamins — especially B-12 — are essential to proper brain function and a deficiency can lead to neurological problems, such as impaired memory or decreased cognition.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. A daily dose of combined DHA and EPA can be helpful in enhancing brain function.
- Amino acids. These are beneficial for brain balancing, but each individual has different requirements. Ask your doctor to test your blood and urine to assess your need and prescribe accordingly.
GET SUFFICIENT SLEEP
People with ADHD often have trouble with sleep. They are easily distracted by the TV or computer, and find it hard to settle down. If you find sleep elusive, institute a regular bedtime in a calm room free of distractions like television. Stick to the routine even on weekends. Exercise early in the day and establish regular bedtime rituals (a hot bath, progressive relaxation, deep breathing).
Consider asking your doctor whether melatonin might be helpful. Dr. Nadeau says that some doctors believe a dysregulated circadian rhythm in some individuals with ADHD can lead to delayed sleep-phase syndrome — a pattern of not being able to fall asleep until early morning despite fatigue the preceding day.
KEEP A DAY PLANNER
People with ADHD have trouble with organization, memory and concentration. To counter these tendencies and remain on task, Dr. Nadeau recommends use of a day planner or organizer. Write everything down in it (phone numbers, business appointments, family gatherings, even when you plan to go to the gym)… estimate how long each task or errand will take… resist interruptions such as phone calls… and get in the habit of carrying your planner with you at all times.
HIRE A COACH
Coaching can be a helpful way to get yourself in the habit of setting reasonable daily goals so you can learn better time management and organization skills. Some coaches now specialize in working with clients who have ADHD. (Find one in your area on the Web site of the ADHD Coaches Organization, http://www.adhdcoaches.org/.) Having to be accountable to your ADHD coach may help you stay on task, notes Dr. Nadeau, adding that he/she can help you learn to problem-solve more effectively.
JOIN A SUPPORT GROUP
Connect with others with ADHD to share thoughts and feelings and exchange practical advice. To find a support group in your area or online, visit the Web sites of Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder at www.chadd.org or the Attention Deficit Disorder Association at http://www.add.org/.
WHEN NATURAL SOLUTIONS ARE NOT ENOUGH
If natural solutions fail to bring ADHD symptoms under control, you may need medication such as methylphenidate (Ritalin or Concerta) or lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse) available only by prescription. Ask your provider to be sure that the drug has been approved for the condition before you accept the prescription.
Even for those who take these medications, however, natural strategies may help you cope better with ADHD and possibly even reduce drug dosage.