As many as two-thirds of ADHD children retain some of their symptoms into adulthood, and many adults with ADHD symptoms go undiagnosed and untreated.
ADHD, recognized as a concern in childhood for many years, affects between 5 and 12 percent of children worldwide. Less well-recognized is that as many as two-thirds of these children retain some of their symptoms into adulthood, and many adults with ADHD go undiagnosed and untreated.
Have you ever wondered about that friend who just doesn’t seem able to pay attention while you’re having a conversation, can’t sit still, and interrupts you at inopportune moments?
Read on; you may be surprised to learn that some of these behaviours may be associated with ADHD. You’ll also learn what to look for, about the challenges—and opportunities—faced by adults with ADHD, as well as how to mitigate the less desirable symptoms.
In general, ADHD symptoms fall into categories of hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and inattentiveness. In adults these core symptoms may be expressed in many different ways.
Hyperactivity: always on the go, unable to sit without fidgeting or toe tapping, chronic searching for stimulation and excitement, overworking.
Impulsiveness: thrill seeking, impulsive purchases, sudden job or relationship changes, speaking without thinking (saying inappropriate things at inappropriate times), interrupting conversations, tendency toward addictive behaviours.
Inattention: bored easily, trouble staying focused on tasks or conversations, chronic lateness, difficulty keeping things organized, forgetfulness.
Emotional challenges: lack of satisfaction with their performance or their experiences, excessive worrying, insecurity, low tolerance for stress, a short fuse, self-esteem problems.
Challenges and opportunities
Symptoms associated with ADHD have the potential to cause enormous disruptions in the lives of those with ADHD as well as their families and friends. There can be major challenges with job stability, relationships, finances, and even personal safety.
But the unique way an ADHD mind works can also make adults with ADHD adventurous, entertaining, action-oriented, and very persistent, all of which can be positive attributes in certain social and/or business environments.
The challenge is finding balance and allowing the positives to shine through while working to reduce negative symptoms.
What causes ADHD?
The search for the elusive cause of ADHD continues. It is likely that a variety of factors contribute to the development of ADHD, and possible contributors include, but are not limited to, genetics, environmental pollutants, and nutrition.
On the genetics end of things, ADHD tends to run in the family. First-degree relatives have four to 10 times the risk of developing ADHD as those without a family history of ADHD. Although this does not mean that certain people are destined to develop ADHD, it does suggest certain genetic backgrounds make people more vulnerable.
There is ongoing debate about the role of food sensitivities in ADHD, but the research does point to a definite impact in some children (the effects on adults remain to be well studied).
Study results released in February 2011 showed that about 64 percent of children had an improvement in ADHD symptoms when they underwent a supervised elimination diet.
The diet excluded common food sensitivities such as eggs, dairy, most grains, and nuts; contained no artificial food additives; and limited the types of fruits that children ate.
Not all children improved, but there were no adverse effects associated with the diet. Some previous studies using elimination diets have reported positive effects in 70 percent or
more of children who were studied.
Suspicion is high for a role played by environmental toxins. Children with blood evidence of lead exposure and/or whose mothers smoked during pregnancy have been found to be at significantly increased risk for ADHD.
It is estimated that these two factors, if they are indeed contributing factors, could account for over half a million cases of ADHD in the US alone.
Other researchers have shown that children with elevated blood levels of persistent organic pollutants (chemical substances including PCBs and dioxins, which persist for years in the environment) have about a two-fold risk of learning disabilities or ADHD.
Physical activity plays an important role in brain development and cognitive function; long periods of sitting still are not healthy for humans. One large US study looked at the effect of adding bursts of fun, physical activity totalling at least 30 minutes per day to the daily classroom routine in several schools. The results at the end of the school year included a 33 percent reduction in the number of children requiring ADHD medication.
The primary conventional treatment of ADHD in both children and adults is stimulant medications. But many do not like to take them long term or would like to know natural options are available.
There are many nutrients under investigation for ADHD, including omega-3 fatty acids and zinc.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Lower levels of omega-3s are not uncommon in the cells of ADHD patients. Studies of omega-3 supplementation in ADHD have been mixed, but some studies in children have shown promising results. Given that omega-3 supplementation is safe, and we know that it can improve cellular omega-3 levels, the addition of these fats into the diets of those with ADHD is worth considering.
Zinc is involved in the proper transport of dopamine, part of the family of chemicals, called “neurotransmitters,” which brain cells use for communication. Disrupted dopamine function is likely one of the underlying problems in ADHD.
Reduced tissue levels of zinc are also seen in ADHD. Zinc supplementation may be particularly useful in ADHD cases where there is a zinc deficiency. Trials of zinc in children have shown some promise, and although more research is warranted, supplementing with zinc is worth considering as part of a nutritional approach to ADHD.
Proper thyroid function is essential for healthy brain development and mental functioning. Researchers have shown an association between increased TSH (a blood test result indicating a reduction in thyroid function) and behavioural disorders.
Even TSH levels in the high-normal range have been associated with increased risk of ADHD in otherwise healthy children. Some environmental pollutants linked to ADHD are also known to disrupt thyroid function. If you have ADHD symptoms, an underactive thyroid is one of the concerns worth having your health practitioner rule out.
Let the light in
A small but interesting trial conducted by researchers in Toronto looked at the effects of bright light therapy on adults with ADHD during the fall and winter. For three weeks, 29 adults with ADHD were exposed to 30 minutes of bright light from a light box that provided full-spectrum fluorescent light.
The results were improvement of ADHD symptoms in about 28 percent and a significant decrease in depression symptoms in 55 percent. Participants in the study reported more energy and an improvement in their ability to go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier in the morning. This could be tremendously helpful for someone who has problems following a regular sleep schedule, which is not uncommon in adults with ADHD.
If you feel that you may have ADHD symptoms, talk to your health practitioner about being properly evaluated. Although identification of adult ADHD has lagged behind that of childhood ADHD, recognition is growing, and new treatment options are available.