Sunday, October 25, 2009

Adult ADHD Treatment (Without Medication!)

In reading around lately, I have realized that I am not the only woman in my peer group dealing with Adult ADD. More specifically, I have ADHD/I; which means that yes, sometimes I am hyperactive (better described as high energy, high strung, and trying to move in a million directions at once), but sometimes I "space out," having no energy and being very prone to being lost in thought (the "I" stands for inattentive).

Sometimes I like to describe ADD has having a brain that is hardwired to word association. You say the word "tree," and suddenly there is a song stuck in my head that has the word tree in it, or a scene from a movie, or a line from a book. But obviously there is more to it, like the need for motion when I am needing to focus on something. When I was working in retail ADD almost seemed like an advantage; the natural charisma draws people in, and of course standing all day means that it is not difficult to move when you feel like you cannot sit still. Working in an office, however, I have realized just how much I need help focusing during the day. Sitting in a chair all day - not so much. It has been a real struggle for me.

7 years ago, when I was in college, I was seeing a therapist in the counseling center (largely for anxiety, though it turned out that much of what I had attributed to anxiety had been exacerbated by ADD.  The two conditions can certainly overlap in places). It was that counselor who diagnosed me with ADD. She actually had me take an IQ test, first, to confirm her suspicions. Apparently most types of genuine ADD (particularly ADHD/I) is found in people who have higher intelligence - especially people who are gifted creatively such as musicians. I told her that I had seen my friends on ADD meds, and that they practically turned into zombies, and I did not want that. She told me that I could manage my ADD without medications fairly simply, but it would take commitment. A diet high in Omega 3 Fatty Acids, regular exercise, and caffeine when I need to focus would help bring things together for me.

While I was in school, I employed the Omega 3 part (through flax seed oil capsules), and the caffeine part, and occasionally attempted "regular exercise," but of course ADD plays against you a little bit there, because it is hard to stick with new things long enough to develop a strong habit.

Out of school, though, and working in retail, I fell out of the whole pattern (except employing my love for caffeine, which easily turned into overuse). But working in an office, as I said above, reminded me that I do need to make efforts to reign things in again. Fortunately, my job is in an office where I have free use of a complete gym facility.

I learned, through some research, that Cod Liver Oil (particularly fermented CLO) taken regularly was an even better source of Omega 3s than flax oil. It is quite high in DHA - an Omega 3 Fatty Acid that is very helpful in dopamine production, which is key for managing ADD).  A little more research indicated that a missing piece of the puzzle was Vitamin B-12. B-12 is also very helpful in the production, release, and absorption of dopamine, a key neurotransmitter for focus.

So, I adjusted my routine, I worked out every morning during the week, took FCLO non-gelatin capsules every morning, plus a sublingual Vitamin B-12 tablet. When I felt my focus start to wane, I would have one cup of coffee. More than 300 mgs of caffeine can be adversely affecting focus, and I found that just the 100-150 mgs of caffeine in one cup of french press coffee was fine for at least a few hours, and taken at the right point in the day, it was the only cup of coffee I needed.

These all worked really well for me.  I was able to reap the benefits of some of the aspects of ADD, but also able to manage the hindrances like poor short term memory and the inability to sit still. If you read that first line and are thinking, "Benefits? What on earth is she talking about?" let me explain a bit. You see, there is an abstract thinking ability and creativity that come hand in hand with the seemingly random nature of ADD. This is why I did not want anything to do with conventional medicines. It seemed that my friends on conventional medicines lost the pros along with the cons, and I had no desire to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

What worked even better for me, though, was my switch to a treadmill desk. Walking at a slow pace of 1-2 miles an hour while I worked, I had more focus than I even knew was possible. Beyond that, I had more energy and focus at the end of the day when I came home from work. A long day of focus-requiring work, even with all my other tools, left me really drained an unable to focus when I came home from work, and the treadmill desk did away with all of that. Currently I am not able to use my treadmill desk, but I hope to be back on it soon when we hire a new customer service representative (someone left the company, which pushed me up to the front desk, where there is not room for the treadmill set up). If you have a job or perform any tasks where you're sitting or standing for long periods of time, I highly recommend getting a treadmill desk!

If you want to employ these tips, but do not like coffee, drink caffeinated Tea. Tea only has 45 mg caffeine per serving, generally, so you may need two cups of tea instead. Do not drink soda. Soda has caffeine, it is true, but it also has loads of sugar and high fructose corn syrup. These will give you a momentary rush, but then you crash, feeling exhausted. Sugar ends up being really detrimental to your energy and focus levels. On top of that, sugar leaches B-12 from your system. Since, as stated above, B-12 is essential for focus due to its role in dopamine production, foods that steal your B-12 should be avoided when focus is needed.

So this is my ADD story. I know many have seen promising results with the GAPS diet, but this has been so successful for me that the idea of so completely changing the way we do things has just seemed like unnecessary extra work. The hardest part of this method, for me, was initially finding the time to exercise, but once I pushed myself to make the time, I found sticking to it was very easy. So in short, I exercise regularly, take fermented cod liver oil supplements, sublingual B12 supplements, and small amounts of caffeine when I need extra focus. I have my days that are a little bit harder than others, but overall I have found this plan extremely helpful. I can honestly say that there is no way I could do all the things we are doing to stay healthy if I did not have help with my ADD.

For further reading on the importance of B12 and FCLO:
Weston Price Foundation - B12
Weston Price Foundation - FCLO
Kelly The Kitchen Kop - FCLO


  1. Really like that you discovered that focus can be enhanced with a treadmill desk. In fact a study out of University of Chicago showed a 15% increase in memory and cognitive abilities by walking 5 miles per day in as little as 6 months. Also, during the same time frame small blood vessel production in the brain was increased an amazing 43%. Walking is critical and treadmill desks like the TrekDesk make this possible for anyone. You can see at TrekDesk and read more studies at our website.

  2. Thanks for sharing that great info JM - I've been down that same path my whole life. The omega 3's have really helped me along with the tea, but what helped me the most was the regular exercise. I started walking every day with a couple of neighbors, but when we got into the winter that stopped (I live in MN). I had heard about the treadmill desks over a year ago (they did a lot of research on them up here) and ended up buying one last December and I truly love it. I walk at least 3 miles per day and sometimes as much as 8. After looking at a couple of them online, I ended up with a Treaddesk - it fit my budget and the small workspace in my home office. The biggest advantage that I have found is not the 14 lbs I have lost, but the improved focus and feeling more productive since I am less fidgety. Walking while I work at my desk is withtout question a better way for to work and I would highly recommend it to anyone - especially for those who deal with ADD/ADHD.
    Thanks - Suz B.

  3. Thank you both for your comments! I have updated the post with an embedded link to the blog post I wrote for work, reviewing the whole treadmill desk concept. I also improved the formatting of the links under further reading.

    I appreciate the comments, and am glad to know there are others who've had the same experience I did!

  4. Wow. That treadmill desk is amazing. I wish I had known about it, oh, 20 years ago! I'm not diagnosed, but clearly have strong AD/HD tendencies. Way back then I just told my employers if they wanted the best out of me they had better let me make sure I got exercise during the day - so for me, walking down the hall to see someone instead of picking up the phone was not a waste of time but an investment in productivity.

    I work at home now so can be as up-and-down as I like during the day. I also MUST get some good aerobic work every week or get all depressed and very inattentive. So, thanks a lot for all the links to sources. Obviously working and walking is more efficient yet.

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