Last month, along with posting to Medium on a regular basis, I was also answering questions on Quora. My first answer received 99 upvotes and Views, the most popular response to the query. Here is that question and answer:
Q: How can I treat my ADHD without drugs?
I’ve never been on meds. I was diagnosed in my early 20s after my formal education was complete. Up until then, here’s how I coped:
- I observed that I wasn’t like everyone else, and I attempted to be.
- When I did school assignments, it helped to write about a topic that I was interested in. If I had a choice of topic or could take an angle/point of view that interested me, I performed better. When I did English assignments about books that I enjoyed, I got better grades.
- When studying for tests and exams, I highlighted, took notes, drew asterisks and got colourful with my notations. Having highlighters in all colours and those 4-colour pens made a difference in remembering information. I took notes in margins and annotated those. (I was in high school as the internet was coming of age and when few people had laptops. Laptops were made by Apple.)
Photo by William Iven on Unsplash
After I got diagnosed, I was recommended the book The ADD Nutrition Solution by Marcia Zimmerman. 20 years later I’m still suggesting that book. It changed my life. Two months into following the plan I noticed myself maintaining eye contact during an interview and thought, “Huh, I can maintain eye contact now.”
Everybody’s needs are different, but there are some basics for ADD management, some of which I had in memory and some of which I pulled off my bookshelf. Starting with nutrition and nutrients:
Nutrition and nutrients
- Consume lots of good fat. I cannot emphasize high-quality fats enough. Most of the brain is made of fat. It’s essential. Omega 3 essential fatty acids are important for everyone and were probably the biggest game changer for me. This is why food lifestyles such as the ketogenic diet are good for brain health issues. Don’t think that it’s a silly weight loss fat. Keto has been helping people with seizures for decades. Its popularity has recently soared because it works, and then food faddists starting following it.
- Probiotics. A healthy gut is necessary for a healthy brain. The gut microbiome is sometimes referred to as the “second brain.” 95% of the body's serotonin is produced by the gut nerve cells, and every class of neurotransmitters found in the brain is also found in the gut. Microbiota and nerve cells in the gut products more than 40 neurotransmitters. Also, most of your immune system resides in your gut. I recently wrote a detailed blog post about it.
- Zinc. Zinc nourishes the entire brain. It also helps create a lot of the neurotransmitters that help relay messages between neurons. The production of melatonin depends on zinc. It also helps with immune function. Lots of us with brain health issues have problems with inflammation of the brain and inflammation is an immune response. In studies of children, those with the lowest blood levels of zinc had the highest levels of inattention, distractability, hyperactivity, impulsivity and other symptoms.
- Vitamin B6. It helps form dopamine. In one study of children with ADHD that was done in 1979, vitamin B6 was as effective as Ritalin at controlling symptoms. (Source: A study published in Biological Psychiatry and referenced in James Greenblatt’s recent book Finally Focused). In other studies on adults cited in that book, vitamin B6 improved attention and decreased other symptoms. This said, if you’re already taking Ritalin do not stop just because someone on the internet (me) told you about vitamin B6. If you’re interested in stopping meds, talk to your doctor. I am not a doctor.
- Carnitine may help regulate dopamine and ADHD.
- Vitamin D is a neurotransmitter precursor that helps produce serotonin.
- Depending on symptoms and type of ADHD, different neurotransmitter precursors might help. Studies show that the ADHD brain blocks tryptophan and that low levels of GABA cause impulsivity. So, GABA might help people who are impulsive and hyperactive. L-tryptophan helps with sleep problems and anxiety.
- Watch the sugar and caffeine. Low sugar or no sugar. Be honest with yourself about whether or not you can tolerate caffeine. Caffeine helps some people with ADD, providing better focus and clarity. Some people find that caffeine causes anxiety. Some go through periods of each. Some coffee drinkers can have it at night and still fall asleep easily. Caffeine is a drug. If it helps you, go for it.
- Physical activity. Years ago, a gym teacher in the U.S. initiated a program in which students elevated their heart rate before the start of school. As a result, it increased attention and learning. Other schools and school districts followed.
- Adequate sleep. Our brains need the recovery time.
- Routine. Try to keep your necessary items in homes (e.g., keys always in the same place) and try to stick to a schedule. If you have a list of activities that you do every morning, you’ll be more likely to remember if it’s routine.
- Environment: Determine the best environment for you and try to maintain it. You might need absolute quiet or a bit of background noise.
- Mental exercises: Puzzles, meditation, anything that teaches focus.
- Self-compassion. It’s easy to hate ourselves for certain qualities. Also, we tend to be more emotional, and our brains amplify situations. Not everyone with ADD will do this. There are different types of ADD that affect different parts of the brain. Every human on the planet benefits from self-compassion and love.
I have a whole system that I called PRIMED for bringing ADD into balance. I created it based on my own needs, and I’ve helped others. (Contact me to learn more!)
Remember, ADHD is a brain health issue. A healthy brain is vital. Medications work on the symptoms, but you need to keep your brain healthy, just like your body. Keep yourself healthy rather than deal with it when you already feel like crap. Furthermore, a healthy body helps maintain a healthy brain.
Seek out the two books I mentioned above. Also, check out Daniel Amen’s website and his books about ADD. These are the three resources that have had the most significant impact on me.
Bonus tip for my blogs: I find that my most focused, productive days begin with a morning run, followed by a big glass of water (at least a half litre), and then a coffee blended with coconut milk (good fat) and Four Sigmatic Lion's Mane Elixer. The tagline for this product: “Like a hug for your brain”. Sometimes I double-fist coffee and a protein-packed smoothie. Want to try the Lion's Mane Elixer? Click that link and you'll be given 10% off. If you don't see the 10% off at checkout, enter code loveyourbrain. (Affiliate link.)
My interests in health primarily lie in two areas:
- Gut (digestive) health
- Brain health.
The latter is what I practice.
Of course, I had to read a book called, Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life! The author: Journalist Max Lugavere with Dr. Paul Grewal, M.D. The book was published on March 20 of this year, and Lugavere was inspired to write it because of his mother's experience with dementia. The official book description:
After his mother was diagnosed with a mysterious form of dementia, Max Lugavere put his successful media career on hold to learn everything he could about brain health and performance. For the better half of a decade, he consumed the most up-to-date scientific research, talked to dozens of leading scientists and clinicians around the world, and visited the country’s best neurology departments—all in the hopes of understanding his mother’s condition.
Now, in Genius Foods, Lugavere presents a comprehensive guide to brain optimization. He uncovers the stunning link between our dietary and lifestyle choices and our brain functions, revealing how the foods you eat directly affect your ability to focus, learn, remember, create, analyze new ideas, and maintain a balanced mood.
Weaving together pioneering research on dementia prevention, cognitive optimization, and nutritional psychiatry, Lugavere distills groundbreaking science into actionable lifestyle changes. He shares invaluable insights into how to improve your brain power, including…
(You can read the rest on Amazon.)
Below is some of what I learned, and my thoughts. A slightly expanded version will appear on my Medium blog.
Genius Foods was a welcome follow up to the book Food: What the Heck Should I Eat by Dr. Mark Hyman (released February 27, 2018), which I read immediately before and also enjoyed immensely. I agreed with everything in Dr. Hyman's book, and I learned a lot. From Genius Foods, I learned a lot too, and it reinforced information in my memory.
Food as medicine
These books follow the ‘food as medicine' principle that foods can help you or harm you. The same foods that are healthy for one person can be toxic to another, but there are some concepts apply to all. I've been saying this for years. Eat the good stuff, cut out the shit. You get to control what you put in your mouth. If it's “bad” for you either don't put it in your face, or consume it and enjoy it.
I like a good debate
One of the things I enjoyed about Genius Foods is that I didn't agree with everything that Lugavere wrote. This thrills me. Not in some sanctimonious way, but because we're all human with our own caches of information, experiences, opinions and perspectives and it's refreshing to read viewpoints that I don't share. I enjoy learning new information, and I like reinforcing knowledge. It helps me learn and retain knowledge. When I disagree with an author, I sometimes imagine myself having intelligent discussions with them. Also, differing reminds me that 1) I know my shit and 2) authors are human, they are not absolute authority figures.
In Genius Foods I highlighted a lot. I bookmarked and annotated. Truthfully, I retained little in my memory. That's what the bookmarks and annotations are for. Notice the Post-It notes that say “liver function”, “intermittent fasting” and “poop”. (You know I'm going to edit this post from my phone JUST so I can use the poop emoji.)
There are actually many tape flags. Max took video of me and my book.
I had to post this one too, because “poop”.
Specific themes have been recurring in the books that I've been reading, and some of those books were written a decade or more ago. For example, while reading Genius Foods, I wondered if Lugavere had read the same book I had that referred to brain-derived neurotrophic factor (aka BDNF) as “Miracle-Gro for the brain”, published in hardcover format ten years ago.
(Or, you know, maybe I've got confirmation bias, and I'm seeking out books that tell me what I already know and think.)
Intermittent Fasting, intuitively
One thing that I've noticed in all the reading and learning is this: My body tends to do what it needs to do instinctively.
Take intermittent fasting, for example, which is another one concept that keeps coming up in my learning adventure. Lugavere discusses that 16:8 method of fasting, which entails sixteen hours of fasting and an eight-hour window in which eating is permitted. Two days ago I listened to Dr. David Perlmutter's interview for the Keto Edge Summit, in which he talked about intermitted fasting. Intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet complement each other in many ways.
I often joke that when I forget to eat, I'm “intermittent fasting” but when I really thought about it, I remembered that for years I couldn't eat breakfast because eating in the morning made me feel nauseated. I also recalled that when I have an office job I tend to make a smoothie or oatmeal to take to work and I slowly sip or nibble over the course of the morning. I don't get hungry for lunch until around 2 when I do this. Now that I'm once again working from home I often don't eat until later. I drink a fatty coffee with coconut milk stirred or blended in.
I DO do the 16:8 intermittent fast. My body knows. I don't do this because it's the newest fad.
Lugavere points out that women should start with a 12-14 hour fast. That's basically from the end of an early dinner through breakfast. He goes into the concept of cortisol, which you can read about in the book.
The ketogenic diet
In Genius Foods, Lugavere does discuss the ketogenic diet, including this bit:
It's been so effective, and its safety record so robust, that it's currently being evaluated as a therapeutic option for numerous other neurological diseases. Migraines, depression, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and even [ALS] are all conditions that have been associated with excessive brain inflammation.
He presents his own diet, which he calls The Genius Plan, which is like a modified version of keto. His plan differs in the types of fat and in how it nourishes the microbiome.
If you want to learn more about what he said, buy the book. I also recommend the Keto Edge Summit. Dr. Perlmutter's interview talks about nourishing the microbiome on keto, sot the two resources complement each other well.
Also, one day of the event was about cancer. Lugavere mentioned cancer concerning keto in his book.
The truth about poop
Another fact from Genius Foods (which I knew because I'm a microbiome nerd): Each gram of poop contains one hundred billion microbes. Every time you take a dump, you excrete about one-third of your colonic bacterial content, which rebuilds over the day. Each microbe carries its own unique genetic material. Think about it. Howdy ho!
And speaking of poop…
Living with a dog is one of the top ways to increase the microbial diversity of the home and in the gut. Yep! My gut is diverse!
I've talked a lot about the microbiome so far. Honestly, that's because I have the book beside me and I'm going in order of the chapters to refresh my memory, but there is a ton of information about neurotransmitters and brain health. Some of the bits that I highlighted:
- In a forced swimming test to study depression in mice: “Mice that are depressed tend to give up hope and allow themselves to sink sooner than happy mice.” Don't be a mouse.
- Mice given probiotics seemed more eager to stay afloat in these studies. They also showed an increase in anti-anxiety receptors in certain parts of the brain.
- Healthy serotonin levels may rely on vitamin D, as Vitamin D helps to create serotonin from tryptophan. This makes sense in the context of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Meeting and book signing
It was a coincidence that one of my favourite brands, Genuine Health, was the host/partner. I didn't find out about this event through their PR people or their mailing list (their emails go to an email address that I check maybe weekly), but through Max's Instagram account.
(Side note: If you click the link above, you'll see every post I've written for this website that mentions Genuine Health. Those products are still my favourite. My love affair with fermented Greek yogurt proteins+ is going strong after two years.)
I nearly had a “hi, let's be friends” moment. It was slightly awkward. I went with it because I'm determined to use my voice, be visible and not get rattled.
More about keto
A Canadian brand that I like. In Canada, labels are in English and French.
When I saw him at his Toronto book signing, Lugavere emphasized that he doesn't recommend adding extra fats but eating foods that naturally contain fat. Avocados are good. Someone in the audience asked him about what health advice he thinks is bad. He answered, butter coffee. I noted this because I was amused. Lugavere said that he drinks it once in a while because “it's tasty AF.” Yes, he said “tasty AF” and not, “tasty as fuck”.That's almost like verbalizing a hashtag. 🙂
One place where he and I disagree: He claims that there's no evidence that butter is good for health. Yes, your fat calories should come from more nutrient-dense sources, but there any many health benefits to eating butter made from the milk of grass-fed cows. Among these:
- It contains vitamins E, D, A (great for hair and skin) and K2 (crucial for regulating calcium metabolism in the body).
- It contains the ideal ratio of omega 6: omega 3 fatty acids, which makes it anti-inflammatory.
- Furthermore, fat and cholesterol have been shown to improve hormone regulation and cell membrane function. Grass-fed Butter
Diversify your nutrition sources. You don't need to consume butter in your coffee every day – even if you agree that it's tasty AF it's probably not a good idea – but I don't think that butter is poor advice.
I learned this phrase in the talk he gave before signing books, but I knew correctly what he was talking about. A report published in medical journal EBioMedicine in March 2017 calls nutritional psychiatry a “nascent field” and refers to a “consistent evidence base from the observational literature confirms that the quality of individuals' diets is related to their risk for common mental disorders, such as depression.” However, my aunt Dr. Hyla Cass (a real doctor who went to medical school) has been practicing this for decades. She's the one who got me into essential fatty acids for brain health. Gotta love when the mainstream medical community catches up, and she IS part of the mainstream community.
I feel like I've said enough but I don't know how to end this. How about this: Buy Genius Foods. If you're not ready to commit to that, follow Max Lugavere on Instagram.
This post contains affiliate links.
I just wanted to pop in to let you know that I haven't been neglecting writing/blogging. Instead, I've been writing elsewhere. I challenged myself to publish posts to Medium at least five times per week.
Excuse the fuzzy screenshot. If you click the image, you'll be taken to the page this was captured from.
Why Medium, and why regular writing?
- Medium has a huge readership.
- I felt the pull to become a regular contributor to Medium, and an inner voice told me that good would come out of it.
- Writing for Medium, almost every day forces me to put myself out there, and I've been pushing myself to step and be more visible.
From my first (public) Medium story, published there on April 2:
I’ve been feeling pulled to start posting on Medium. At first, it was a gentle tug, and then that tug got stronger. After reading some recommended posts (er, stories) via Medium Daily Digest, I decided to challenge myself to post five times a week for the month, perhaps longer than one month. Says my intuition, “Something’s going to come of this! Opportunities will result!”
Then, I finished reading Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. Full title: Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person. In a Medium story about that, I said,
When I decided to start writing for Medium on a daily basis, it was part of this an ongoing voice and visibility challenge that I’ve been undertaking.
I play small. I always have. I was afraid to raise to raise my hand in class in case I got the answer wrong. It’s a confidence issue. I know I can be awesome, though.
I also said this:
I need to position myself as an expert and thought-leader. I need to write for consistency and practice. I also can’t beat myself up if my writing isn’t perfect or I don’t publish with the exact intended schedule.
Have I abandonded this space?
No! I will start publishing here again, and in the future – possibly next month – I'll write here first and then input those into Medium. For a nearly-daily writing challenge, it's easier to not focus on a topic or a niche. It's hard enough to write one post in a day. While I do intend to try writing multiple posts in one day (today might be such a day), I haven't had it in me yet. There was one day that I didn't post to Medium because after writing three cover letters for job applications, I was spent.
Those Medium posts get deep
You might notice that some of my posts there are quite vulnerable. This is because
- It's part of that voice and visibility challenge I mentioned- putting myself out there.
- I like to help break stigmas and talking about things shows people that some human experiences are common and okay to talk about, and it shows people that they're not alone. This is important in today's curated world.
- If I'm writing almost daily, I need to write what I know. It's way easier to write something I know well and about which I'm passionate. I wrote a story about bullying, and even though it was 2,500 words, it took me less time to write than any other post.
I have a post in my head about a health book that I recently read and about meeting the author at a book signing. I'll get to that.
If you're on Medium, follow me. Comment and clap.