I don't have ADD, it's just that - ...Wait a minute.....SQUIRREL!!
Now where was I?
That is a short example of how a person's brain works when they have Attention Deficit Disorder, also known as ADD. ADD is also known as ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. ADHD most often gets the most attention, because it brings to mind boys who can't sit still, who disrupt class, home, school, synagogues, churches, and life in general. Those of us who have the Inattentive Daydreaming type of ADD tend to sit in the back of class, not always notice what is going on, and look out the window, daydreaming about whatever comes to mind.
It is also commonly thought that ADD occurs in children. Very little attention is focused on adults with ADD. About 60 percent of children with ADHD in the United States become adults with ADD. The generation of young adults who have had structured behavioral and therapy plans when they were in school who leave high school or college and now have to deal with the world on their own is coming to fruition in recent years. They are sometimes left adrift and don't know how to control their behaviors in "the real world".
I didn't find out I had ADD until I was 40. This explained a lifetime of drifting around trying to find a career I liked and fit into, jobs lost for saying something stupid that seemed right at the time, lost friendships, loneliness, why I would forget where something was when I had it in my hand a moment ago, and why my desk was piled high with junk I couldn't ever seem to get a handle on. This led me to champion the cause of Adult ADD. Most information about ADD that I could find was all about hyperactive boys, and what parents could do to help them. That didn't apply to me. I muddled through the world with a better direction than I had before, but still not finding many resources that didn't cost a lot of money.
I took medication because it was the least expensive and seemingly the surest alternative. It really did make a difference for me. I was able to calm down the mental chatter that was always going on in my head, and actually got more done in my life. I gradually began to investigate the role that food and nutrition play in ADD. I found out that there are certain kinds of foods that can exacerbate ADD symptoms, and certain kinds of foods that make my ADD worse. I found that I am not alone in my endeavor.
The rest of this article will discuss ADD, look at how it manifests in adults, and how nutrition and eating habits affect ADD.
What is ADD?
ADHD symptoms often include difficulty in focusing on the task at hand, difficulty in staying organized and finding objects a person just put down a moment ago, inability to focus, problems finishing jobs they started, and difficulty in sitting still if they are distracted by something else. Adults with ADD/ADHD often have a hard time getting themselves out the door in the morning, being on time, remembering details, disorganization, and restlessness. Adults with ADHD may have a hard time organizing things, remembering details, and listening to instructions without drifting into outer space. This can profoundly affect their relationships at home, school, and work. It can be very difficult to keep a job and make friends when a person doesn't notice what is going on in front of them.
Most attention about ADD is focused on children. Contrary to popular opinion, we don't always outgrow it when we reach adulthood. A recent estimate from CHADD – Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder – says that there are around 10 million Adults with ADD. That's 10 million people – 4% of the population! whose brains work differently than average. That means that 10 million of us are wandering around looking at squirrels when we could be making something of our lives! Furthermore, of this 10 million, fewer than 20 percent of adults with ADD know they have it; and only one quarter of this 20% look to get help.
An unknown percentage of ADDers don't want to take medication. They say they don't want to be drugged for the rest of their life, or there are unwanted side effects – sleep disruption, increased anxiety, or medication seeming to interfere with their creativity (it is rumored that great artists like Mozart or Van Gogh had ADD).
Diet, Nutrition, and ADD
The approach of only taking medication overlooks one of the things that we CAN control that can lead to stimulation of or reduction of ADD symptoms – What You Eat. You Are What You Eat, as the old saying goes. There are certain foods that can stimulate you only to lead to a crash later. Others foods can straighten out your blood sugar highs and lows, and give a person nutrients in order to help lessen your ADD symptoms.
Too little attention is given to the role that diet and nutrition play with treating ADD/ADHD. Whether or not a person takes medication, what they eat can affect their ADD symptoms. ADDers crave stimulation – the latest app, the music that is constantly playing in certain retail stores, the latest squirrel running outside the window, etc. When we are feeling tired or unmotivated, an ADDer craves a quick fix. That fix can often become FOOD!! Food is everywhere. Ads for food are everywhere. It is way too easy to get stimulated by eating junk food, which is easily available anywhere - coffee bars, snack machines, gas stations, etc.
The key to ending the cycle of highs and lows from eating junk food is to focus on eating healthy. Wouldn't you like to have a decrease in your ADD symptoms? It can be done by adding these foods to your diet! Discovering the right combination of these foods for you is a fascinating journey to feeling better. For instance, pumpkin seeds are an excellent snack. They can be salted, raw, eaten by the handful, sprinkled on your favorite salad, or eaten with fresh fruit.
What you put in your body determines how you feel. Through a healthy, whole foods diet, you can boost your mood and attain overall good health.
The following is an exploration of nutrition and foods that can help feed your brain and body, thus reducing your ADD symptoms.
How Nutrition affects the brain:
1. Brain cells, like other cells in the body, need proper nutrition to carry out their functions.
2. The myelin sheath is a layer around the axon of a neuron. It is necessary for the brain to function well. It is very important for the myelin sheath to have the proper nutrients to transmit signals to the cells. If it doesn't, electrical transmission between the cells is slowed down, and an ADDer can have an extra foggy brain as a result
3. Neurotransmitters — dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine — are also dependent on diet for proper functioning.
If the right nutrients aren’t accessible to the brain, its circuits misfire.
FOOD THAT MAKES ADD SYMPTOMS WORSE:
Refined Sugar and Junk Food
Junk food is full of overly and refined and processed carbohydrates – white flour, sugar, artificial preservatives, flavorings, etc., that give us a quick high but bring us to a crash later on. Refined foods may fill ADDers up, but don't give us any nutrients. This leads to more cravings, which in turn leads us to fill up on more junk food, which causes us to be even more distracted because we don't have good nourishment feeding our brains.
Standard American Diet
Food processed with chemicals, artificial preservatives, flavorings, color
Refined white flour
Refined white sugar
Food Preservatives, Additives, and Coloring
It has been postulated since the 1970s that artificial food preservatives, additives, and coloring can add to ADD symptoms. Studies have found a link between increased hyperactivity and synthetic food dyes combined with the preservative sodium benzoate. Other preservatives to watch out for are TBHQ, BHA, BHT, and sodium nitrate. These preservatives and a host of others are found in many highly processed foods.
Non-organic blueberries and strawberries
Very high amounts of pesticide residue are found in strawberries and blueberries that are not organically grown. These pesticides can be a key cause of brain development impairment even when exposed in very small amounts. Organophosphates are linked to impaired cognitive function and Alzheimer's disease in adults.
FOODS THAT HELP ADD
Protein is one of the building blocks of our bodies. Protein makes the neurotransmitters in the brain, which helps us function optimally. It slowly digested, which helps control the sugar and carbohydrate spikes in the brain. These highs and lows are part of what makes it difficult to concentrate.
Protein sources include a combination of a wide variety rice and beans, nuts, seeds, pea protein, soy, cheese, eggs, fish, lean chicken and beef.
Whole Vegetables and Fruits
If you have never had fresh, homemade fruits and vegetables before, I will tell you that they are far superior in taste and nutrition to boiled, canned or frozen vegetables. They are full of vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamins C, A, and E, folate, potassium, and fiber. Finding new ways to prepare them – steaming or using a good sauce to enhance their flavor – can be a really fun and exciting activity as you explore the world of eating better! If preparation time is an issue, there are plenty of fresh pre-prepared salads and salad bars available at most grocery stores.
Whole Grains & Fiber
As stated before, refined foods may fill you up, but they have very little nutritional value. Whole grains contain micronutrients, including fiber, zinc, iron, magnesium, and the complete vitamin B complex that contribute to optimal brain function. Whole grains include whole oats, barley, rye, whole wheat, quinoa, brown rice, and wild rice. They are easily attainable at major grocery stores. Look for a high percentage of fiber content in the nutrition label to determine the amount of fiber. High fiber means that there are five or more grams of fiber per serving. Fiber stimulates the movement of food through your intestines so nutrients from your food can be fully absorbed.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 Fatty Acids have been shown to be anti-inflammatory (including brain inflammation), help with serotonin and dopamine uptake, fuel basic cell functioning, and help with cardiovascular health. Sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids include Flax seed, Borage and Black Seed oil, fish – especially salt water fish.
An important but little known neurotransmitter in the brain for ADDers is Dopamine. Neurotransmitters are molecules that act as messengers for practically every cell in the body. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that inhibits impulsivity, which is one of the primary qualities of ADDers that can get us into trouble. Impulsively blurting out the first thought that comes to mind can ruin lots of relationships with all sorts of people – coworkers, friends, significant others, order takers, for example. Dopamine's most well known functions are: Activity and Movement, Self-rewards, pleasure, awareness, and discernment. If dopamine levels in the body are low, a person can become tired, irritable, lose memory for basic things, feel unmotivated, lethargic, and prone to addictive behavior. Anger can easily surface, as can junk food cravings, and thyroid dysfunction. To prevent this, there must be enough vitamin B-6, Folate, vitamin C, as well as the minerals, Zinc, Copper, Magnesium, Iron and Manganese.
Foods that increase Dopamine include: Green tea, Kale, Red beets, bananas, apples, strawberries, blueberries, beans, legumes, almonds, avocados, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and eggs.
Specific nutrients that can help ADD:
Zinc regulates dopamine and may improve the brain’s response to dopamine. Low levels of zinc correlate with inattention. Foods rich in Zinc include nuts, beans, squash seeds, dark chocolate, mushrooms, toasted wheat germ, and spinach.
Magnesium is used to make neurotransmitters involved in attention and concentration. It has a calming effect on the brain.
Foods high in Magnesium include Brown Rice, buckwheat groats, peanuts, spinach, whole grain bread, mackerel
Iron helps to control the activity of dopamine. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, thyroid problems, and immune system breakdown. Foods high in Iron: Pistachios, figs, spinach & leafy greens, lentils, kidney beans, oats, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, almonds, chickpeas, and quinoa.
Transitioning to eating better
If all this seems difficult to you here are some practical tips and suggestions to help you transition to foods that will help control your ADD symptoms.
START SLOWLY. If you make this like most diet resolutions that are started on New Year's Day and broken very soon after, it won't help you any.
Look at the list of suggestions in this article and pick one that you think you can easily do. For instance, try having a good crunchy apple and nuts as a snack at least once a day instead of having a bag of Doritos and a sugary drink. It will be much more satisfying, and it won't give you the sugar high and low. Then try another.
Substitute refined sugar with less refined sugars that contain more nutrients – palm sugar, coconut sugar, and date sugar for instance. Health food stores and most major grocery stores have good selections of items made with these.
Become a Label Reader – Look at the ingredients of everything you buy. Fiber content tends to be listed The artificial preservatives & coloring tend to come at the end. If it doesn't have good ingredients in it, find an alternative – there are plenty of them available
If you are intimidated by this whole process, remember:
The road to eating better to help control your ADD symptoms begins with a single bite!
If you are struggling with the process of transitioning to healthy eating, Jeanne Papish offers a free support group called Eating Healthy for Adults with ADD at 7:30 pm MST in Longmont, Colorado on the second Tuesday of every month. https://www.meetup.com/HealthyEatingADDAdults/ If you can't make it, or live in a different state, arrangements can be made to Skype in. At the time of publication,the next meeting is Tuesday May 8th 2018
Jeanne Papish also offers nutritional coaching and gardening for Adults with ADD in person or via Skype. She can be reached by text or phone at 720-422-8202. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook https://www.facebook.com/SeedsofFocus/
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