Naturally Managing ADD

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I’m sharing a guest post from my Beloved today. Calvin is sharing his thoughts & experiences with ADD, with helpful- and hopeful!– tips on living life well. Our heart is not to give people with ADD a “label,” but to see people equipped for living healthy, whole lives, glorifying God in the stewardship of their minds & bodies (and many creative talents). Don’t let the fear of a “stigma” of ADD keep you or your child from finding the necessary answers. Please.

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It’s often a surprise to learn that most people with ADD are not hyperactive. I was 27 when I finally got the answers to why certain aspects of life were so much more challenging for me than for “normal” people.

There are actually six types of ADD/ADHD. Only two of the types include hyperactivity. The other four include symptoms of sluggishness, inattentiveness, excessive daydreaming (“lost in space”), and recurring depression. While much is written about all the types of ADD, I’ll focus on the type I was diagnosed with. (We highly recommend reading the book Healing ADD for a more detailed look at the different types.)

According to a new study in the March issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, the Mayo Clinic has estimated that up to 7.5% of school-aged children are affected by ADD/ADHD. With a condition so prevalent, it would be wise for those of us who believe in natural healing to be educated in what ADD/ADHD is, and how this unique way of a brain interacting with the world can be steered to glorify its Maker.

So what exactly is ADD/ADHD?

The acronyms stand for Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The two are actually two separate sets of symptoms which overlap enough to be combined into one field of study. While people with ADD have a wide range of symptoms and “quirks”, here are some of the core symptoms:

  • Short attention span for routine tasks
  • Easily distracted
  • Problems being organized with space and time
  • Problems with following-through
  • Poor self-supervision

I could never seem to get organized, it was way too easy for me to be lost in brain space, I found it hard to concentrate on what people were saying during conversations, and I couldn’t really be motivated to do anything. Because I wasn’t really tuned in to the world around me, I didn’t remember much of what others said and did, or even what I said and did. I lived in a fog full of static.

Those who know me in any measure may still detect some of this in me. But the difference is how I’ve learned to manage ADD using tools and diet. Ultimately, one must accept the beauty of how God has made his brain, and then move forward to sift out the causes of undesirable behavior.

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ADD isn’t a disease; it’s a way a human brain interprets and responds to the world around it. This difference in brain signals and chemistry can be both a blessing and a curse. The secret to thriving is to manage the curse and allow the blessing to shine.

Many people (often unaware of their ADD) tend to manage their brain chemistry with various unhealthy “self-medicating” coping mechanisms (often which help stimulate the neurotransmitter brain pathways that are deficient), to help bring back the “out-of-control” or depressed feeling to a more stable emotional state. These may include:

  • Sugar/Energy Drinks
  • Addictive Behaviors (drugs, alcohol, lust)
  • TV/Movies/Video Games

To naturally manage ADD, there were a few basic dietary rules I had to learn to follow (which are standard aspects of a “real food” diet, anyway):

  • Avoid simple “white” sugars and other simple carbs such as candy and white bread (very strong cravings are likely to occur for these initially, as you remove them from your diet!)
  • Drink caffeine only in moderation (and none at all, at first)
  • Eat a higher protein to carbohydrate ratio
  • Eat foods rich in Omega-3 fats, such as avocados and fish.
  • A diet of additional foods to avoid/increase were tailored to this specific form of ADD from suggestions in the book Healing ADD (which focuses on the amino acid and sugar content of foods, such as peanuts and carrots, for example). We included many meals from the SCD diet, as well.
  • Also, a high amount of physical exercise (at least 3 times per week)

In addition to foods, there are natural supplements that I learned about to help manage ADD. The main supplement for me was L-Tyrosine. L-Tyrosine is an amino acid used by the body to build dopamine, a neurotransmitter deficient in people who have my type of ADD.

Other good supplements were grapeseed extract and St. John’s Wort. These natural herbs are a powerful antioxidant and an antidepressant, respectively. The tendency for depression was especially noticeable during the seasonally “dark” winter months, and the dosage adjusted accordingly. My supplement dosages were designed by consultation with both our counselor and our physician.

While food and nutrition go a long way toward managing ADD, one must have tools to thrive with ADD. Here are a few more of my “life management” tips:

  • Write things down.
  • Tell the significant people in your life about your ADD and how they can help you. Don’t be dependent on people, but don’t keep people guessing why you act the way you do.
  • Build routines in your life, and consciously put things away in their place as soon as you’re done with them.
  • Be aware of your thought patterns, whether they are negative and depressing or positive.
  • Consciously keep yourself from mentally jumping ahead in conversations. Engage people and listen in the present.

Trust me; all of this gets easier the more you practice. But you must purposefully practice what others take for granted.

Finally, be thankful. Historically, people with ADD were some of the most gifted and astonishing people, responsible for many of the inventions and ideas that bless countless lives. ADD lets you think outside the box. I had to come to a point where I accepted the fact that God made me this way on purpose. I’m not diseased, I’m blessed. Everyone else may find that hard to believe, but be patient with your growth. Give God control and the glory for successes.

You only have one life. Live it well.

Feel free to leave your questions in the comments section. If necessary, we can do a follow-up post.

Go here for Naturally Managing ADD: Part Two.

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21 comments to Naturally Managing ADD

  • What a wonderfully written post. I’ve been looking for ideas and natural ways to treat ADD with my son.Is there any advice you’d give to the parents of children who have ADD?

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  • We used all the above with my now 13 year old when he was in kindergarten through 4th grade. The teachers wanted us to put him on Ritalin but L-Tyrosine and diet changes worked like a charm. Great article!

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  • Thanks for the helpful links! My 9 year old was recently diagnosed as having ADD this fall. On the advice of our family physician and some extenuating circumstances he is currently being assisted with medication but I struggle with this course of action because I’m not convinced it works completely and I feel that our food has a lot of influence over our health. Any other advice or resources for what parents can do to help kids with ADD is greatly appreciated.

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    Michele Reply:

    @Tori, Hey, Tori. Thanks for your comment. The book “Healing ADD” by Dr. Daniel Amen has lots of great advice for families nurturing a member with ADD. One of the points he makes is that ADD isn’t strictly a medical issue. The management of ADD include psychology, diet, and environment. If I could be so bold as to add to a respected brain scientist :), I would say your son’s understanding of the Lord has a huge factor. I know I was so wrapped up in negative self-talk (a key symptom of my type of ADD), that I had to start by treatment by owning how good God made me. Maybe we as Americans are so focused on the medications that we forget medications aren’t designed to heal how we perceive ourselves.
    Because each type of ADD is different, there are different ways to interact with each type. I would recommend talking to a psychologist or physician to make a game plan for your son. There’s a great list of such professionals in the back of “Healing ADD” organized by state. I could look in my copy of the book for you. Actually, I would strongly recommend you invest in the book yourself. It has a wealth of information so you can make informed decisions with your son.
    Dr. Amen, the author of the above book has a website with updated information. http://www.amenclinics.com/
    I hope this is helpful. Thank you for your comment!

    Calvin

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  • Jenni

    This was really interesting. I’m curious – do you find it hard to pay attention to anything, or only certain things? The reason I ask is that sometimes I wonder if some of ADD is only that some people are paying attention to different things than others, or that they are in an environment that makes it hard to be focused.

    I’ve also read that males, especially in schools, are much more likely to be diagnosed with ADD than females are, but that questions are being raised as to whether that’s because they can’t pay attention, or that they’re being asked to pay attention to things that are geared more toward females (See: The Trouble with Boys, by Peg Tyre).

    Also, a good book I’ve started is Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv. In one chapter, entitled “Why the Young (and the Rest of Us) Need Nature,” he noted that some parents of children with ADHD noticed that their children’s symptoms were calmed by natural settings, and even suggested that much of ADHD could be a set of symptoms aggravated by lack of exposure to nature. Having two small sons, I’ve already noticed that when we’re indoors too much, my oldest (age three) is much more hyperactive, but when we are outdoors he seems to calm down.

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    Michele Reply:

    @Jenni,
    Jenni, you’ve brought up some great points. The issue of attention and attention deficit is best understood when one knows what happens (and doesn’t happen) in the brain.
    ADD can be thought of as adrenaline deficiency, in a way. Adrenaline is a hormone that kick-starts certain parts of the brain to produce dopamine and serotonin. It just so happens these hormones help control attention and focus.
    So, yes, it is easier for me and other ADD folk to focus on some things and not others. Left to myself, I’ll focus (sometimes way too much) on new, exciting things, while being easily distracted from routine, mundane things. The big thing to realize is that the ADD brain without the proper tools doesn’t have the internal “rule-keeper” that the non-ADD brain has. The ADD person will think it’s perfectly normal to focus (often obsessively) on a certain thing while ignoring the routine.
    As for boys being diagnosed more than girls, I would agree. When educators, and even doctors, think ADD, they only think of the hyperactive type. But statistically have one of the other types of ADD, especially Inattentive ADD. So they often fly under the radar, so to speak, while kids with the more noticeable types
    I’ve also read “Lost Child in the Woods”. Great book. Being outside really helps me to get away from away a lot of input and “reset”. Good exercise works best outside, and exercise is great for the brain as it helps with hormone balance.

    Thanks for the comments!

    Calvin

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  • Lisa

    Calvin, thank you for sharing your experiences so openly! While ADD is not a struggle for my family or me at this time, your description of accepting that God made you this way on purpose speaks to me in my struggle with depression . I found it greatly encouraging.

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  • Jodi

    My husband has had ADD since he was a child. He was medicated at different times, which he says didn’t really help him. What has really helped him as an adult, was discovering that he’s allergic to wheat. When he stays completely gluten free, his brain is so much clearer! I can usually tell quite accurately if he has eaten something that contains wheat, as his behavior changes. So I cook all gluten free for him and our family (and it’s not that hard to do) and it has made a world of difference for us!

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    Michele Reply:

    Absolutely, Jodi! :) We’re a gluten-free family, too.
    Thanks!
    Michele

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  • I’ve learned that everyone is unique, but that we all need to live Christian lifestyles, avoid allergens and stimulants, and increase regular sleep, outside time, and exercise.

    Great post.

    Annie Kate
    thinking clearly on a gluten-free diet

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  • Miranda

    thanks for this post, i have a child who has been on adhd meds for the past month, he has always had problems at school and i am open to any natural remedies i can find. For the past week he has been off of his meds due to insurance not covering and now his dr prescribed adderall but i am very hesitant about letting him take it. Ths past week has been very difficult for him he has gotten into lots of trouble at school. I am wondering about the L-tyrosine. Is there a specific dosage amount for children, and is there a specific brand you recommend?

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  • One of my sons has ADHD. I didn’t believe in it before we had him. I thought it was just boys being boys, but it isn’t. I have 3 other boys who are very active and do not have ADD/ADHD. They might get antsy or have trouble paying attention some, but it’s nothing like my oldest. We have him on meds right now. I have been changing everyone over to a natural diet and I hope that we can eventually wean him off his meds. I have read that magnesium and fish oil can help, but not L-tyrosine. I will have to give that a try. Thank you for sharing.

    [Reply]

  • DMack

    Got a little anxious reading this post and Jenny’s reply because I felt like I was reading about myself. It could help clear up some questions if I knew for sure..how does someone find out if this (or something else) is the cause of their distractions, in-attention, depression, non-motivation, etc.

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  • Rebecca Dow

    Hi Calvin, the video’s on the following link are of a boy with autism, and how the GAPS diet has improved his condition. I have read that GAPS helps with depression, ADD & ADHD etc… Becky

    [Reply]

    Michele Reply:

    @Rebecca Dow, Yes, GAPS can be very helpful! Our family has incorporated that into our diet in certain seasons. (It is similar to the SCD diet we mentioned, too.)

    Blessings,
    Michele

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