ADHD, or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, is one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions. Its name itself fails to fully capture the nature of the condition and only fuels confusion. Is it about attention deficit or is it about hyperactivity? Is it a condition that we develop, is it purely genetic, or is it just a new-age fad? And why is it that when people with ADHD explain their condition, the usual answer is that: "Oh, I have that too!". To gain a deeper understanding of this condition, it's essential to approach it from a fresh perspective.
In this op-ed, I want to share a very personal story about my ADHD diagnosis, and how I finally gained an understanding of this mysterious condition. Some of my beliefs are not proven or shared by mainstream medicine but they helped me understand and combat this disorder. Therefore I found it important to share it, but take everything with a grain of salt, and nothing you read here can constitute an alternative to have a one-on-one consultation with your healthcare provider.
With that said, let's dive in.
The conservative answer to this question is that ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects both children and adults. It is characterized by persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that can significantly impact daily functioning and quality of life.
Individuals with ADHD often struggle with maintaining attention, organizing tasks, staying focused, and regulating their impulses. They may experience difficulty following instructions, completing assignments, and sustaining attention during activities. In addition, hyperactivity and impulsivity may manifest as fidgeting, excessive talking, difficulty staying seated, interrupting others, or acting impulsively without considering the consequences.
ADHD is a very complex condition that can vary in its symptoms and their severity. It can affect individuals differently, with some primarily experiencing attention difficulties (predominantly inattentive presentation), while others may exhibit both inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity (predominantly hyperactive/impulsive presentation). There is also a combined presentation where both sets of symptoms are present.
The exact causes of ADHD are not fully understood, but traditionally it is believed to result from a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors.
One of the most frustrating thing for someone with ADHD is the inability to describe their symptoms to someone without that person interrupting and saying “Oh, I have that too.” But I believe this reaction is the key to a deeper understanding of ADHD, because in those conversations both sides are right. In a way I believe we all have ADHD.
The traditional thinking of ADHD is that it's a disease - something we either have or don’t have. But I firmly believe that in reality, ADHD is a developmental problem and it's simply the far end of a spectrum that we’re all on. Let me explain it.
If one end of this spectrum is what we consider “normal,” we should call that a “discipline-based mind.” Those who are in complete control of their focus and attention belong in this group. These are usually wonderfully consistent and reliable people who are highly effective at methodical jobs. On the other end of the spectrum is what I’d call an “interest-based mind,” and it's what modern science tends to label as ADHD. Those who live on that part of the spectrum are highly creative, incredibly curious, and fascinating people. After all the correlation between creativity and ADHD has been long established. Some of the greatest artists, philosophers, and inventors lived on this side of the spectrum. But the farther away somebody is from the “normal” end, the less discipline and organization they have in their lives. And without those traits, creativity and curiosity can easily stop being gifts and turn into a terrifying force ready to wreak havoc. As Aristotle said, “There is no great genius without a touch of madness.”
In the 1930s, a doctor named Charles Bradley was treating children with narcolepsy, a sleep disorder. While using a stimulant medication called Benzedrine, he noticed something interesting. Some of the children seemed to become calmer and more focused. Bradley was intrigued by this observation and published his findings in a research paper in 1937.
Other researchers took notice of Bradley's work and decided to investigate the effects of stimulant medications on children with ADHD. In the 1950s, a specific stimulant medication called methylphenidate, commonly known as Ritalin, was developed and it quickly became the go-to treatment for ADHD.
The reason why stimulants paradoxically calm down people with ADHD is because they increase the levels of certain brain chemicals, such as dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals are involved in attention, focus, and impulse control. When the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine are raised, individuals with ADHD often experience improved ability to pay attention, focus on tasks, and manage their impulses.
And while stimulant medications are not considered to be a cure for ADHD, they can be highly effective in managing its symptoms.
I was diagnosed with ADHD at a late age of 32. As I was reading about the condition and going through the life-changing instagram account: ADHD Memetherapy, I had a shocking experience as all the puzzles suddenly fell in place and my entire life gained a new understanding. What I considered normal all my life was actually a disorder shared by many. The memes eerily described my entire life and behavior patterns down to the T.
The go-to treatment was prescription stimulants. Unlike some other psychiatric medicines, these stimulants are considered very safe and there are a myriad of personal accounts of how they changed the lives of people with the condition. And in certain cases of ADHD, where the executive functioning of the brain is compromised, these meds are the crucial in taming the disorder. (To fully understand how our ADHD works and what parts of our brain functions are impacted we always have to rely on our healthcare provider.) But to me, diagnostic tests revealed that executive function was not part of the problem. My problem was brain fog, overall fatigue, inability to maintain focus, and impulsivity. I never felt out of control, I just felt like I was slowly drowning in quicksand and I had no motivation to get out of it. And as someone with ADHD, as soon as I got the diagnosis, I went down the rabbit hole of gaining a deeper understanding of my struggles. The stimulant meds were a bit too strong for me, and I felt like my ADHD wasn't as severe to justify a regimen of prescription meds. So I started to hyperfocus on recreating their effects in a softer manner, and I created an alternative, more natural treatment plan.
Before we go into the details, I have to state once again, that each person has different experiences with ADHD, and the severity can vary wildly. Natural remedies will never be as powerful as prescription stimulants and since we're talking about medicines that could be life changing, I highly recommend consulting with your qualified healthcare professional about any decision you make regarding your condition. I also don't want to to turn anyone away from prescription drugs as I believe they are safe and it's important to at least try them, to feel and understand their effects. And once we experienced what it's like when prescription stimulants unshackle us, it's also easier to experiment with natural alternatives to recreate the feeling in an educated way.
To recreate the effects of prescription stimulants with natural supplements I first decided to take a look at their underlying mechanisms. Since they work by giving a burst of energy while they elevate the dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain, I decided to create a customized nootropic blend that does the exact same.
ADHD fatigue, procrastination and inability to focus are probably the most common symptoms of the condition. Until we get a diagnosis and prescription stimulants, we usually and instinctively approach the problem with diarrhea inducing ammount of coffee. But for me, caffeine has always overcharged my nervous system, causing a terrible, jittery feeling, inducing anxiety, ending in an awful energy crash within an hour. Fortunately, I found a different way to consume caffeine that works perfectly for my needs and my condition.
In my experience ceremonial-grade Matcha powder is by far the best supplement to gain focus, mental alertness, and energy when we have ADHD. Matcha is derived from specially grown green tea leaves and it's packed with antioxidants, amino acids, and caffeine, offering a unique blend of stimulatory and calming properties.
In the past, many believed that the caffeine in matcha was different from that in coffee, resulting in a gentler impact on the nervous system. People reported experiencing increased mental clarity and sustained energy without the jitters or crashes commonly associated with coffee consumption. However, further exploration revealed that it is not the caffeine that sets matcha apart, but rather the unique combination of other bioactive compounds present in the green tea leaves. L-theanine, an amino acid abundant in matcha, is believed to contribute to its calming effect by promoting a state of relaxation without drowsiness. The synergy between caffeine and L-theanine in matcha creates a harmonious balance, creating both focused alertness and a sense of tranquility. Instead of having a huge spike in energy and a jittery effect on the nervous system, L-Theanine controls caffeine’s effects and absorption, making it a smoother ride that lasts for 4-6 hours instead of the usual 30 min-1 hour with regular coffee.
With Matcha, what we need to be mindful of is the quality and how they are classified. Ceremonial grade matcha is considered to be the highest quality, as it’s made from young leaves and boasts a vibrant green color, rich umami flavor, and a smooth, creamy consistency. This type of matcha has the most nootropic effects, while culinary-grade matcha, which is more affordable and readily available, has less cognitive impact and it’s rather used for cooking and in beverages.
If we don't like the bitter, earthy taste of Matcha and rather opt to an espresso or capuccino, we can still mimic Matcha's smoother and longer energy boost. By simply taking L-Theanine with our coffee, we can still expect an improved focus and attention, but the amino acid will moderate caffeine's harsh effects on the nervous system, avoiding the jittery feeling and the energy crash, changing it to a smoother more balanced ride.
Pycnogenol is a natural extract derived from the bark of French maritime pine, and it has shown to improve attention, concentration, and visual-motor coordination in children with ADHD. In a groundbreaking double-blind study conducted in 2006, researchers found that children who took pycnogenol for one month showed significant improvements in attention and behavior.
The researchers concluded that pycnogenol is an effective treatment for ADHD, that's safe and well-tolerated by children with no significant side effects. They noted that pycnogenol is a natural substance that is also rich in antioxidants, which can help protect brain cells from damage.
In addition to this study, there have been several other studies in the years passed and they also found that pycnogenol can improve attention, concentration, and behavior in children with ADHD.
Sometimes ADHD is summarized as dopamine deficiency. While this belief doesn't cover the entirety of the disorder, it's crucial to understand how this single molecule is affects our motivation and focus. So let me tell you the story of a more than 50 year old dopamine study.
In this experiment, neuroscientists decided to explore the role of dopamine receptors in the brains of lab mice. To do so, they put the mice in a cage with easy access to food and water. Then, they blocked the dopamine receptors of the mice to see how their behavior changes. The results of this experiment were unsettling to say the least. The mice didn't just lose interest in their surroundings; they lost the motivation to even sustain their own lives. Despite having food and water within reach, they displayed a profound lack of engagement and simply laid around, exhibiting no initiative to nourish or hydrate themselves. Ultimately, the mice died due to starvation and dehydration, even though the necessary resources were readily available.
This experiment served as a powerful demonstration of the influence dopamine exerts on every aspect of our lives. It highlighted how any disruption or imbalance in dopamine function can fundamentally alter our behavior and motivation. So by knowing this and the correlation between dopamine imbalance and ADHD, I decided to boost it naturally.
L-tyrosine is a naturally occurring amino acid, that can effectively give the little boost in dopamine levels that we need. The reason behind this lies in the fact that L-tyrosine acts as a precursor to dopamine. When L-tyrosine is consumed, it undergoes conversion into dopamine, thereby increasing its levels in the brain. But before adding L-tyrosine to our supplement regiment we should always consult with qualified healthcare professionals and stay clear of the more powerful dopamine boosters like mucuna pruriens as they can too overwhelming.
Zinc has shown potential benefits for people with ADHD by supporting dopamine regulation, enzyme function, and executive functioning. It plays a crucial role in regulating the neurotransmitters responsible for attention and impulse control. Zinc also acts as a cofactor for essential brain enzymes, supports executive functions like working memory and cognitive flexibility, and may help reduce impulsivity and hyperactivity. While zinc supplementation is not a standalone treatment, it can be considered as part of a comprehensive management plan for ADHD.
After boosting energy levels and dopamine, I looked at other aspects of how people with ADHD tend to be different and decided to address those issues as well.
Omega-3 fatty acids are of great importance for individuals with ADHD, as they are known to reduce symptoms such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. These fatty acids are primarily found in fatty fish, which may be challenging for vegan or vegetarian children to obtain through diet alone.
Magnesium is a vital mineral for brain health. Research indicates that individuals with ADHD may be more likely to have lower blood levels of magnesium than those without ADHD, making supplementation potentially beneficial.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a crucial role in numerous bodily processes, including brain health. Research has shown that children with ADHD have diminished levels of Vitamin D compared to those without ADHD, so ensuring adequate Vitamin D levels can be an essential component of an effective ADHD treatment plan.
Iron is an essential mineral required for the synthesis of dopamine, which is a key factor in the development of ADHD. Low iron stores have been connected to ADHD, indicating that iron supplementation may be advantageous for individuals with ADHD.
Sleep is another essential factor to consider when addressing ADHD. Approximately 80% of adults diagnosed with ADHD suffer from some kind of sleeping difficulty. This can range from difficulty falling asleep to recurring awakened nights. To help out with sleep related issues I usually turned to another capsule of L-Theanine before sleep or a melatonin supplement.
It's important to note that supplementation won't work without a complementing diet. The chemical imbalances are hard to address without incorporating the right foods into our diets. There is no one-size-fits-all diet for people with ADHD, but there are some general dietary guidelines that can help improve symptoms. These guidelines include:
In addition to following these general dietary guidelines, some people with ADHD may find that they benefit from following a specific diet, such as the Feingold diet or the ADHD diet. These diets eliminate certain foods or food additives that are thought to trigger ADHD symptoms.
It is important to talk to your doctor before making any major changes to your diet. They can help you determine which dietary changes are right for you and can help you develop a plan to make these changes gradually.
Here are some specific foods that may be helpful for people with ADHD:
It is also important to avoid foods that may worsen ADHD symptoms. These foods include:
Ultimately for me, the best dietary solution was to go on a ketogenic diet, as it provided me incredible mental clarity and an amazing burst of energy I have never experienced before.
Keto has also been beneficial in managing my insulin resistance. Throughout my life, I experienced energy crashes and drowsiness after eating carbs, due to the huge blood sugar spikes I received. And those unintened naps in the middle of day also contributed to my messed up sleep schedule, which then only furthered my mental health issues. But keto managed to solve this entire Gordian knot, simply by eliminating the wrong things from my diet.
Interestingly, later on, I discovered that there are studies suggesting a connection between ADHD and insulin resistance.
In conclusion, ADHD is a complex condition that affects millions of individuals worldwide. While prescription medications can be effective in managing symptoms, it's good to be mindful of the natural supplements on the market that can help us in the long term.
By understanding the root causes of ADHD, working closely with a healthcare professional, and building a personalized supplement stack, individuals with ADHD can experience significant improvements in their symptoms and overall quality of life.
Yes, it is possible to overcome ADHD. With the proper treatment, support, and strategies in place, people with ADHD can effectively manage their symptoms. While it does not cure the disorder, these measures can help those living with ADHD lead productive and fulfilling lives.
Coping with ADHD can be challenging, but establishing certain routines and techniques can help you manage your symptoms. Mindfulness practices such as meditation and breathing exercises can help reduce impulsivity and aid in focus, while regular exercise can help improve energy levels and memory.
Yes, with the right support and treatment, it is possible for individuals with ADHD to lead a normal life. By learning coping strategies, seeking therapy and being open to medication when necessary, people with ADHD can achieve success in their relationships, careers and other areas of life.
Calming yourself down with ADHD can be difficult, but it is possible. Start by taking a few deep breaths to relax your body and focus on the present moment. You can also practice relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, journaling, or exercise. Set boundaries for yourself and take breaks throughout the day to reduce stress and refocus.
With the help of lifestyle changes, such as eating healthy meals, getting plenty of exercise and adequate sleep, and adhering to a consistent daily routine, it is possible to manage ADHD symptoms without medication. Developing organizational techniques, practicing relaxation exercises, and using mindfulness can all be beneficial for reducing distraction and allowing a person with ADHD to better focus on tasks.
The best book on ADHD is Dr. Gábor Máté's Scattered Minds as it's the most comprehensive, up-to-date book on the subject, written by someone who has struggled with ADHD all his life and poured decades of experience in it.