Since September is back to school time, I thought it would be an appropriate time to talk about ADHD, or Attention Deficient and Hyperactive Disorder. Although it is commonly recognized in children, a lot of adults may struggle with undiagnosed ADHD, or may be looking for alternative ways to manage it without medication.
What is it
ADHD is a behavior disorder a person is born with which is characterized by impulsivity and poor attention span, and considered a life-long concern . Symptoms for this disorder commonly start appearing in a person before the age of 7. However, most people tend to be diagnosed by either the first few years of elementary school, or when they first enter university. There are currently three recognized types of ADHD which are i) inattentive and not hyper; ii) hyper; and iii) mixed hyper and inattentive. What I want to point out from these three recognized types is that a person with ADHD doesn’t always have hyperactivity. In my practice the most common type of ADHD that I see is the mixed type, because people that are not fully hyper but who fidget a lot, tend to be put into this category.
At the moment there is no set biological definition of what causes ADHD. However, research does show there is a 25% chance of inheritability of ADHD. The dominant theory for ADHD suggests that there is poor dopamine production (dopamine is like a hormone but only works within the very small space between nerve cells in the brain) in people with ADHD. This assertion is mostly based on the fact that stimulant medications like Concerta and Ritalin help the brain better utilize the dopamine that is present and prevent its breakdown, but they don’t actually make more dopamine. These medications also help produce more Norepinephrine (which is similar to adrenalin) which is what actually causes the stimulation effect. More recent medications have focused only on the Norepinephrine production and seem to indicate that dopamine may not be the key player causing ADHD.
New imaging technology now allows us to look at the functioning of brains to compare the difference in functioning of ADHD brains to non-ADHD brains. Research now shows us the ADHD brains function differently than the non-ADHD brains. However, this doesn’t state a cause or reason, just simply that there is a difference.
Dietary and Lifestyle Impacts on ADHD
Some research shows that many people with ADHD have low Iron (or ferritin) levels. There is other research which suggests that some people with ADHD have improvement in symptoms with a hypoallergenic diet – this type of diet consists of identifying food items that a person may be hypersensitive and react to, not just removing food colouring or sugar. A hypersensitive reaction produces an antibody with an IgG reaction, and there are tests that can identify these allergenic food items to reduce the guessing game of trial and error. These tests can be ordered through a Naturopathic Doctor.
Many people with ADHD can also experience digestive problems which may be an indication of this hypersensitivity problem. In my practice, with food adjustments alone I have seen a person’s behaviour change drastically, and other conditions like rashes improve too. Another potential issue for people with ADHD is having high levels of heavy metals in their bodies. While this is something I can screen for as a naturopath, I don’t see this in all of my patients with ADHD and I typically wait to screen until other symptoms have improved. The bottom line is that there can be many contributing factors to ADHD, and each individual is different.
Poor sleep and the lack of exercise can be key contributing factors to worsening of symptoms. Many children and adults with ADHD have sleep disorders, which either lead to the person having less sleep or poor quality sleep. In my practice I have noticed that people with ADHD tend to need more sleep than most people. It is my personal suggestion that people with ADHD get 7.5 hours of sleep per night in order to have a complete sleep cycle. Exercise has many benefits aside from the ability to burn off extra steam. Its real benefit comes from bringing blood and nutrition to the brain by improving circulation.
ADHD is a real condition that affects many people. Although there is no set cure or clear cause for ADHD there are many ways to support people with ADHD. While it is common to focus only on the attention issue and/or hyperactivity, most people with ADHD have a host of concerns such as social interactions, sleep issues and digestive disorders. Focusing on just one symptom, I would suggest is not the best treatment practice for people with ADHD. ADHD treatment, like all medical conditions, should be tailored to the individual to address all of his or her needs.