In the United States, ADD and ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, respectively) are on the rise. While prescription medication is the current treatment offered by most doctors, many question if it's really the best answer for their patients.
This debate has led a growing number of people to explore alternative, more natural ways to manage ADD symptoms.
But why are ADD and ADHD seemingly such sudden issues? And are any of these natural treatment methods actually effective?
The Current State of ADD Symptom Management
In the grand scheme of things, ADD and ADHD are quite modern diagnoses. Though the first known mention of ADHD symptoms date back to 1902, these conditions weren't recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual until 1968 (1). However, at this point, the condition was called Hyperkinetic Syndrome of Childhood.
Finally, in 1987, ADD and ADHD were officially added (2) to the DSM.
Today, over 6.4 million children are diagnosed with ADHD. Among these patients, boys and men are three times more likely to receive a diagnosis than girls and women. And the condition is found in all races and in every state. The lowest diagnosed ADHD cases can be found in Nevada at 4.2 percent, while the highest is in Kentucky at 14.8 percent.
The research doesn't show a direct correlation yet between location and disorder.
So, why do five percent of children and four percent of adults in the United States suffer from such a newly recognized disorder?
Why are ADD and ADHD so common today?
In the educational and psychological spheres, there's much debate over the seemingly exponential growth of ADD and ADHD diagnoses.
Some believe that ADD and ADHD have always been present in the population to the current degree. It's just that these symptoms weren't causing severe issues until modern life.
Today, most examples (3) of ADD and ADHD symptoms come out in settings like the classroom or office. But looking back just over a century, how many children and adults spent the majority of their lives sitting indoors? Compared to today, not many.
Others believe that our current lifestyles are responsible for the development of ADD and ADHD. Depending on who you ask, proponents of this belief point to diet, activity levels, technology use, and other recent developments as the cause of these symptoms.
And it's true that stress and overstimulation often play a role in ADD and ADHD symptoms coming to the surface. While overstimulation can come from crowded spaces or excess noise, our pockets hold one of the worst sources of overstimulation.
Technology, and its instant access (4) to entertainment and stimulation, are a constant problem for many ADD patients.
Then again, one could argue that technology doesn't trigger ADD and ADHD. Instead, those with ADD and ADHD are drawn to overusing technology because it offers constant stimulation (something the ADD brain craves).
As you can see, the debate rages on.
Are prescription drugs really the answer?
Without a doubt, stimulant prescription medication is the treatment-of-choice for ADD and ADHD patients. The most popular medications currently in use for ADD treatment include:
For many ADD patients, these medications are life-changing when it comes to the day-to-day management of their symptoms. In fact, the U.S. National Association of Drug Abuse report 16 million patients used stimulants prescribed this past year.
Unfortunately, though, these medications don't come without side effects.
Each patient has a different experience, and some medications work better for some than for others. But many patients frequently experience negative side effects like loss of appetite, sleeplessness, emotional irritability, and increased heart rate.
In most reported cases, these patients decide that the marked improvement to their daily lives justifies tolerating these side effects. Others, though, abandon the idea of prescription medication altogether.
Is it possible to manage ADD symptoms naturally?
So is it possible to manage ADD symptoms without stimulants? The answer to this question is rather unclear at this point.
On one hand, we have evidence that ADD is at least partially a result of unbalanced neurochemicals (5) in the brain's frontal lobe. This tells us that to truly treat ADD, our methods need to target these chemicals.
Presently, stimulant medications are the most immediate and direct approach we know of to actually increase (albeit temporarily) the neurochemicals responsible for ADD symptoms.
On the other hand, though, we know that diet, physical activity, and emotional health can also affect the neurochemicals inside our brains. While these benefits aren't as obvious as those of prescription-strength stimulants, they do exist.
Another thing to consider is that, while ADD and ADHD are very real syndromes, there's a high possibility that these conditions are overdiagnosed in some populations. Most notably, in young boys (6).
But it's not necessarily that these children aren't presenting ADD- or ADHD-like symptoms. Instead, these symptoms might be caused by something other than the specific chemical imbalances we know cause ADD and ADHD.
For these children, natural treatment methods might be the most effective and least harmful path to a more balanced life.
5 Natural Ways to Manage ADD You Need to Try
The world of ADD and ADHD are largely shrouded in speculation and uncertainty. As a result, there are seemingly endless sources of information lacking any substantial evidence to support their claims. Most of these unmonitored sources live on the Internet.
Fortunately, this is not one of those sources.
The natural symptom management techniques listed below all have some form of evidence to back them up.
Is this evidence always conclusive? No. But it's a vital starting point that tells us there is something behind each of these potential triggers and how they can affect ADD and ADHD patients.
Keep in mind, natural and medication-based treatment methods don't need to be mutually exclusive. If you feel that your prescription medication isn't managing your symptoms entirely, adding some of the natural treatments below might help improve your symptoms.
Also, bear in mind, you should talk to your doctor before making changes to your ADD or ADHD treatment regimens. What we provide here is information only and should not be used to diagnose or treat any condition.
That said, here are the top five natural ways to manage ADD symptoms and how they might work.
1. Avoid potential allergens
Researchers have found that some food allergies can present as hyperactivity and other ADD or ADHD symptoms.
Not all cases of ADD are a result of undiagnosed allergies. But this trigger is definitely something to explore before committing to prescription stimulants.
Some of the biggest allergy triggers are milk, eggs, and chocolate. While inconvenient, these potential triggers are fairly easy to avoid.
However, there are some other allergens that can easily slip by if you're not informed.
BHT and BHA are both artificial preservatives that may be linked to ADD-like symptoms. These compounds are common in products like chips, cereal, butter, baking mixes, gum, and instant mashed potatoes.
The other chemicals to avoid are coot containing salicylates. While these compounds are naturally found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, they can also trigger ADD-like symptoms in some people.
If you suspect you might have an allergy to this chemical, avoid foods like berries, chili powder, apples, and grapes.
2. Increase physical exercise
Getting more physical exercise is rarely a bad idea. But this good habit might actually help manage ADD and ADHD symptoms.
First, physical activity helps increase serotonin production. Serotonin is a crucial neurochemical that helps regulate mood and other brain functions.
Second, exercise can help reduce stress levels. Since unmanaged stress can be one of the biggest triggers for ADD and ADHD, lowering your stress levels is a great way to limit your symptoms.
Finally, physical activities force you to step away from technology and other forms of stimulation like television, the Internet, and video games. If you find that these distractions worsen your symptoms, taking a break can often help alleviate them.
3. Limit stress
On the topic of stress, exercise isn't the only way to lower your day-to-day stress levels.
Unfortunately, we only have so much control over the stressors in our lives. While you can try to avoid talking to people you dislike or getting into disagreements, there's little you can do about the stress of work or school responsibilities.
What you can do is learn how to respond to this stress. Everyone has a different preferred method, but some popular stress-management techniques include meditation, art, and professional talk therapy.
Caffeine and other stimulants can also increase your stress levels. Plus, too much caffeine can interfere with quality sleep (something essential to a low-stress life).
4. Treat vitamin deficiencies
Remember the neurochemicals that are responsible for clinical ADD and ADHD? The most significant of these chemicals is called dopamine.
This might seem like insignificant information, but there are actually several vitamins that are responsible for dopamine production and regulation. These crucial vitamins and minerals include zinc, vitamin B6, magnesium, and L-carnitine.
In a nutritionally healthy person, these vitamins help keep dopamine at a consistent level. But what happens when someone is deficient in one of these vitamins?
Often, deficiencies of one or more of these vitamins can affect the dopamine levels of the brain. If someone has ADD or ADHD, this could make their symptoms worse. In those without clinical ADD or ADHD, these deficiencies could make them present with ADD-like symptoms.
5. Limit artificial coloring and preservatives
According to the Mayo Clinic, there might be a direct connection between some artificial food additives and increased hyperactivity in children.
The largest culprits include:
While keeping these dyes and preservatives out of your or your child's diet might seem overwhelming, the potential benefits are well worth the effort.
Read nutrition labels carefully to discover if any of these potentially triggering ingredients are in some of your favorite foods.
Potential Downfalls of Natural ADD Symptom Management
Using natural methods to manage your ADD symptoms is an entirely valid way to get the most out of your day-to-day life. However, don't let yourself feel defeated if these treatment strategies fail to work for you.
Unfortunately, stimulant medications carry with them a pretty large stigma (7). Because so many people abuse prescription stimulants (up to 35 percent of college students admit to misusing ADD medication), it can be hard for diagnosed patients to easily and reliably get the treatment they need.
However, unmanaged ADD or ADHD can lead to far greater issues than missed deadlines and lost keys.
Over 15 percent of adults with ADHD admitted to being dependent on alcohol or other non-prescribed drugs. In fact, addiction and substance abuse are both well-documented issues (8) for many ADD patients, with 70 percent self-medicating.
While not all ADD and ADHD patients suffer from addiction, these statistics show that these disorders can have severe and potentially life-altering consequences for those affected. Access to proper treatment and symptom management techniques is incredibly important if these consequences are to be avoided.
The Future of ADD and ADHD Treatment
Although it's frustrating to see so many children and adults struggling with ADD and ADHD, there is one benefit to its prevalence.
With ADD and ADHD affecting so many people, especially in the United States, countless parents, doctors, and teachers are pushing for additional research. By discovering more about the causes of ADD and ADHD, advancements in treatment will be much easier to come by.
Who knows where the near-future will take us in terms of understanding these disorders. Maybe we'll find a clear connection between ADD and our modern diets or technology use. Or, maybe we'll learn that these conditions are completely out of our control in the first place.
Regardless of what future research uncovers, our current focus should be on improving the lives of ADD and ADHD sufferers and their loved ones. Whether this improvement comes in the way of prescription stimulants, natural remedies, or something else entirely doesn't matter.
All that matters is that ADD and ADHD patients can live productive, fulfilling loves surrounded by those who understand their condition.
Have you or a loved one tried any of the natural treatment methods listed above? Let us know your experiences, positive or otherwise, in the comment section below.