Managing my adult ADHD — naturally

By Hayley McKinnon

Every fall, my teachers gently assured my devoted parents that I was smart, creative and articulate. But, as one particularly observant teacher said, “Her brain trips over itself.” After years of struggling with procrastination, anxiety, inattentiveness, and even mild depression, I was finally given the diagnosis of adult ADHD.

happy woman with adult adhd

Adult ADHD can wreak havoc on your life. And, the side effects of conventional medication may be more disruptive than the ADHD. This was certainly true for me. I was initially prescribed stimulants for ADHD. Then sleeping sedatives for the stimulant-induced insomnia. Then antidepressants for the bizarre depression from the sedatives. And so on.

I became determined to find a more natural approach to managing my ADHD — without prescriptions.

6 ways I manage my adult ADHD

While ADHD is still considered “incurable” by conventional standards, the methods below helped me take control of my life while working synergistically with my body’s natural chemistry.

1. Happy gut, healthy mind: Patients who suffer from ADHD, anxiety and depression almost always have low dopamine and serotonin levels. That’s because 90% of the serotonin in your body is made in your gut. If our intestinal bacteria aren’t thriving, our mental health will suffer.

To improve the balance of beneficial bacteria, load up on proven probiotics with diverse strains. Eat fermented foods — particularly fermented vegetables —as often as possible. Another good idea is to cut out dairy, refined sugar and wheat, which often disrupt the ecology of our intestinal flora.

2. Sweat: Nothing clears my head and refocuses my mind quite like a long run or intensive cardio. Find a workout that motivates you, and stick to a regular schedule. Bonus: exercise-induced endorphins will boost dopamine levels in your brain. This helps to stave off the mild depression that often accompanies ADHD.

3. Diet: I’ve always been “healthy” according to conventional standards. But adjusting my diet to eat for my ADHD has had an impact beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Don’t get me wrong, the initial changes are really difficult — especially sugar withdrawal. But the benefits to your body, mind and spirit are absolutely worth it.

  • The golden rule of the ADHD diet is to simply eat whole foods, straight from the earth, with minimal processing, and avoid any ingredients you can’t easily pronounce. This will help you eliminate artificial elements like preservatives, dyes, food colorings and additives. These make your ADHD worse, as they confuse your neurotransmitters and contribute to inflammation. Organic food is best whenever possible, because the pesticides and chemicals in conventional produce are toxic to any brain.
  • Eat enough protein and healthy unsaturated fats like salmon, avocado and macadamia nuts. Protein, particularly animal protein, provides the amino acids that act as the building blocks for healthy neurotransmitters. Properly nourished neurotransmitters are a lot less likely to misfire along their delivery path than their nutrition-deficient counterparts.
  • Say goodbye to sugar. Cut out sugar completely, at least at the beginning, and stick to a low-sugar lifestyle thereafter. Remember that refined sugar is an invention of the food industry. It’s intended to trick your taste buds into thinking that cheap junk food is appealing. For those of us whose neurotransmitters are already misfiring, consuming sugar is akin to adding gasoline to the fire of ADHD. Plus, blood sugar spikes contribute to emotional volatility and impulsivity. Believe me when I tell you that your brain will benefit from less of the sweet stuff.

4. Brain games: No, I didn’t say video games. Brain games — from mobile apps to wearable devices — teach you to master your mind and discipline your thought patterns through simple, playful exercises that are actually fun. What’s more, these exercises are designed to stimulate creation of new brain cells.

5. Connecting: Because people with ADHD are more inclined towards low self-esteem, it’s far too easy to fall into a negative pattern of reclusive behavior. This will only make pre-existing symptoms worse. Make time to connect every day, whether it be dinner with a friend or volunteering in your community. Positive social interaction also improves dopamine release, which will ease symptoms of ADHD.

6. Mindful exercises: Yoga, meditation and breathing techniques are increasingly popular for people in search of a better alternative. Meditation is particularly helpful to people dealing with anxiety or ADHD because it teaches you to consciously discipline your thought process.

Note that it’s crucially important to have basic bloodwork drawn before you embark on any healing regimen. This is especially true if you’re taking prescription medications. My own blood work revealed that I was suffering from hypothyroidism, severely low iron and amino acid deficiency. What’s more, my liver was essentially failing (thanks to my prescription meds...) Eliminating outlying variables will also increase your body’s receptivity to new treatments.

Attention Deficit Advantage?

It’s important to remember that there are incredibly beneficial advantages to having ADHD — if you choose to see them in a positive light. Those of us with ADHD are passionate, innovative and hyperfocused on projects that matter to us. Plus, we’re in good company. Some of the most iconic figures in American history used their ADHD to create tremendous competitive advantage. A few examples include Thomas Edison, Steven Spielberg, Henry Ford and Richard Branson.

Historically, conventional medicine has classified ADHD as a “disorder.” But thanks to ever-advancing science and the alternative remedies described above, it’s completely possible to manage your symptoms while leveraging the many benefits of ADHD. Who knows? Someday we may be calling it the Attention Deficit Advantage.

Published: December 14, 2017 - Last Updated: April 6, 2021

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