HEALTHY DIRECTIONS | By Dr. Daniel G. Amen
Attention deficit disorder (ADD), also called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is being diagnosed more frequently than ever. Yet, it remains one of the most misunderstood and incorrectly treated illnesses of our day. Medication is the traditional default ADD treatment, but it is not the only—or even always the best—option when considering ways to treat ADD. 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.
With that in mind, here are five natural ways to help treat ADD that I recommend and have successfully used with my own patients.
Natural ADD Treatments: Neurofeedback
In 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics gave neurofeedback a high scientific rating as an effective natural treatment for ADD/ADHD. If you aren’t familiar with neurofeedback, it 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 natural ADD treatment that helps you strengthen and retrain your brain so you can gain a healthier, more focused state.
Natural ADD Treatments: Proper Nutrition
The Standard American Diet is filled with refined carbohydrates (e.g., cookies, bread, and pasta), which make it harder to concentrate because they lower dopamine levels in the brain. That’s why another especially helpful and natural way to treat ADD is with a nutritional intervention. For years I have recommended a high protein, lower carbohydrate diet that is relatively high in healthy fat to my patients with ADD. This diet helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and also has positive effects on energy levels and concentration.
Natural ADD Treatments: Think “Then What?”
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.
Fortunately, a simple technique can help them overcome this struggle. This natural ADD treatment involves the two most important words in the English language: “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 slices of cake, skip exercise, get really drunk on the weekends, or say mean things to loved ones, 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!
Put up these two words where you can see them every day and practice using them! I also recommend that everyone use this technique, not just those with ADD, since it can improve all aspects of health.
Natural ADD Treatments: Exercise
Through the years, I have seen a direct relationship between exercise levels and the severity of ADD symptoms: the higher the exercise levels, the less severe the symptoms. That’s why exercise is an effective natural ADD treatment. It boosts blood flow to the brain and also increases the availability of serotonin in the brain, which has a tendency to calm hyperactivity.
As far as the type and frequency of exercise are concerned, I recommend doing the equivalent of walking for 30–45 minutes four to seven days a week. You should also walk like you are late, as a stroll won’t produce brain-boosting benefits. In addition, you should lift weights twice a week to optimize muscle mass and hormone function.
Natural ADD Treatments: Meditation
Research has shown that meditation can alleviate stress and enhance brain function, both of which are important for effectively treating ADD. The best thing about this natural ADD treatment is it can be done anytime, anywhere.
Whether at home or at work, find a quiet spot where you can sit comfortably, then 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.
Healing ADD starts with knowing if you have it, and then finding out which type you have. Dr. Amen has identified 7 different types and each requires its own treatment plan. However, the five natural ways to treat ADD above are certainly a good place to start and also support overall brain health.