Last week we introduced Claire, one of the millions of women with ADD (attention deficit disorder), who readily acknowledged the condition explained her struggles with school, job, relationships, and the general chaos of her apartment. And why she was a half hour late for her appointment.
“I lose my keys endlessly. I pay big bucks in needless fees on bills that I put down somewhere and just forget about. After I finished college, I never read another book — it was just too much work. I can deal with a magazine article but hardly ever remember what I’ve read. I even have trouble following conversations. There’s just too much chatter in my head.”
“All ADD symptoms,” I said.
“But I don’t want to take drugs. I don’t want the chemicals in my body.”
I hear that a lot at WholeHealth Chicago, and it can be a challenge, especially because ADD meds can work really well. But I’m certainly willing to give the natural route a try, and if it works, terrific.
So this week, I’ll review natural ADD treatment.
At the heart of the matter, ADD patients have difficulty producing or correctly processing one or two neurotransmitters — brain chemicals that allow cells to communicate with each other. We’re familiar with a third neurotransmitter, our stress-buffering serotonin, and although a serotonin shortage can occur with ADD (for example, in people who have ADD + depression or ADD + anxiety), I treat it separately.
The “ADD neurotransmitters” are dopamine and norepinephrine. When levels are low, patients have difficulty with focus and concentration, inattentiveness and easy distractibility. As you might guess, ADD meds boost either the dopamine or norepinephrine. I prescribe drugs to raise one or the other but never both, as the meds are quite potent.
Focusing on nutritional supplements, as we were for Claire, I endeavor to raise levels of both.
If you elevate these neurotransmitters in someone who doesn’t have ADD, the sensation is similar to drinking too much Starbucks. In fact, if you need your morning caffeine to focus, you’re self-treating a very mild ADD. Paradoxically, boosting neurotransmitters in an ADD patient actually is calming and focusing, not stimulating.
So here’s what I recommend for people with mild-to-moderate ADD who want to take a natural route first:
Try a food sensitivity elimination diet: Sometimes (though not often), there’s a food culprit. If you feel calmer after a couple of weeks, reintroduce one food group every few days to locate the offender. Also, avoid artificial colors and preservatives and reduce sugar and simple carbs, like white flour.
Concentration exercises: Concentration can be a major challenge for ADD patients, but I’ve seen a few people reduce or even eliminate their meds using meditation and exercises like these.
Neurofeedback: This form of biofeedback controls brain waves rather than heart rate, breathing, or muscle tension.
Supplements: Nutritional supplements are geared toward normalizing neurotransmitter shortages:
• D, L-Phenylalanine, 500 mg twice daily (taken early in the day to prevent overstimulation), is an amino acid needed for the brain to make more dopamine.
• L Tyrosine (same dose and recommendation) makes more norepinephrine.
• B complex, one daily (B vitamins are needed for neurotransmitter production).
• Fish oil, twice a day (also used in neurotransmitter production).
To anticipate your question, if you don’t have actual ADD but wish to improve your focus and concentration, will these supplements help? The answer is yes, but reduce the doses of the first two if you feel overly stimulated.
How Claire fared going the natural route — and what she ultimately chose to do — is the subject of next week’s health tip.