Dr. Amen Recommends: Five Drug-Free Interventions for ADHD
Attention deficit disorder (ADD), also called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a national health crisis that continues to grow. Even though it is now being diagnosed more frequently than ever, it remains one of the most misunderstood and incorrectly treated illnesses of our day. Medication is the traditional default treatment for ADD, but it […]
Attention deficit disorder (ADD), also called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a national health crisis that continues to grow. Even though it is now being diagnosed more frequently than ever, it remains one of the most misunderstood and incorrectly treated illnesses of our day.
Medication is the traditional default treatment for ADD, but it is not the only treatment. People are often put on powerful stimulant medications in short office visits without any biological information, and the stories of these medications doing more harm than good are common and persistent.
Here are five effective interventions that can help ADD symptoms without using medication:
Neurofeedback is a specialized treatment that uses advanced computer technology for balancing and optimizing your brain. During each session you play a video game using just your brain! It’s a fun, interactive, and engaging treatment that helps you strengthen and retrain your brain to a healthier, more focused state. Using real-time displays of brain activity, you can learn how to regulate your own brain function.
In 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics gave neurofeedback a high scientific rating for ADD.
A nutritional intervention can be especially helpful for those with ADD. For years I have recommended to my patients with ADHD a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that is relatively high in healthy fat. This diet has a stabilizing effect on blood sugar levels and improves both energy levels and concentration.
Unfortunately, the standard American diet is filled with refined carbohydrates, such as cookies, bread, and pasta, which lower dopamine levels in the brain and make it harder to concentrate.
I have my patients remember the two most important words in the English language when it comes to their health: “Then what?” In other words, if I do this, “then what” will happen? If I say this, “then what” will happen?
For instance, “when I eat three chocolate donuts, skip the gym, get really drunk on the weekends, or call my husband a jerk, then what will happen? Do any of these behaviors help me achieve what I want for my life, or help me with my goals?” Clearly, they do not!
According to research, the people who live longest and achieve great success are the most conscientious. They know what they want and then they act in consistent ways over time to get it. This can be a unique challenge for those with ADD because they often struggle with impulse control. Write down these two words and hang it up where you can see them every day-and practice using them!
Exercise increases blood flow to all parts of the body, including the brain, which is particularly beneficial to those with ADD. Exercise also increases the availability of serotonin in the brain, which has a tendency to calm hyperactivity. Through the years I have seen a direct relationship between the level of exercise a person gets and the severity of their symptoms.
I recommend that my patients do the equivalent of walking for 30-45 minutes, four to seven days a week. To get the brain benefit, walk like you are late- a stroll won’t do. Also, lift weights twice a week to optimize muscle mass and hormone function.
Decades of research have shown that meditation can calm stress and enhance brain function. You don’t have to sit cross-legged on the floor, burn incense, or do any of those things you might associate with meditation. It can be done anywhere, at any time.
Whether at home or at work, find a quiet spot where you can sit comfortably, gently close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. When your thoughts drift away (which they will), simply draw your attention back to your breathing. Start with just a few minutes and work up to 10, 15, or 20 minutes if you can. Make part of your life and watch your brain function improve!