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What is ADHD, Anyway?

For one of the more common mental health disorders--and increasingly becoming even more so--attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is widely misunderstood. The image of young boys bouncing off the walls still defines this condition for so many of us, yet this presentation makes up a fraction of those affected and what variables are actually at play.

Nearly 10% of American children (more than 6 million) have been formally diagnosed with ADHD (CDC, 2018). Persisting into adulthood, approximately 10 million adults are knowingly affected (CHADD, n.d.). On top of that, people with ADHD often have comorbid (coexisting) mental health conditions. The most prevalent comorbidities, particularly for women, include anxiety and depression. We also see addiction, rejection sensitive dysphoria, and behavior and conduct issues, such as oppositional defiant disorder, among others. It’s not uncommon for the diagnosis of ADHD to be missed, especially in girls and women, and the person may be misdiagnosed with, and subsequently medicated for, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or something else.

As the diagnosis and awareness of ADHD continues to rise, so have the questions around why that is. Evidence suggests there are a myriad of factors, including increased awareness and recognition, increased biological vulnerabilities, and sociological factors, such as chaotic households and increased childhood stress. Some believe we’ve developed this kind of society-driven reaction that looks similar to ADHD due to our relatively abnormal (evolutionarily speaking) lifestyles. Think about it: our day-to-day schedules consist of long, sedentary school/work hours, excessive screen time, and a lack of opportunity to engage with our creative brains, time in nature, face-to-face interpersonal interaction, and physical activity.

Common Symptoms of ADHD:

  • Time blindness

  • Hyperactivity (fidgeting, tapping, squirming, talking excessively, etc.)

  • Brain fog

  • Trouble focusing

  • Trouble starting and following through with tasks

  • Inattention

  • Zoning out during conversations

  • Anxiety and/or depression

  • Adrenal dysfunction

  • Insomnia

  • Regularly making mistakes

  • Clumsiness

  • Easily distracted

  • Losing things

  • Executive function deficits (difficulty planning, organizing, and following through)

  • Financial issues

  • Relationship issues

  • And more!

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, how do you know if you are someone with ADHD or are suffering with the symptoms of an overstressed, sedentary society (or both)? The answer lies in how often you’re experiencing these symptoms and how much they’re interfering with your life. If you struggle with the list of symptoms above on a regular, consistent basis and your life (i.e. career/school, relationships, home life, etc.) are being affected, it may be time for you to seek help and a diagnosis.

What Causes ADHD?

No single cause can be attributed to ADHD. There are likely several factors at play, including genetic and environmental factors (Weyandt, 2007). Conventional medicine considers 60-80% of ADHD is hereditary (Froehlich et al., 2011). That leaves up to 40% being attributed to non-genetic influences, with epigenetics suggesting factors such as diet, lifestyle, and chemical exposure influencing genetics directly. ADHD can also be influenced by sleep deprivation, exposure to toxins and heavy metals (including to the parents preconception, in utero, or directly to the child), the health habits of parents preconception, food additives and sensitivities, and nutrient deficiencies (Froehlich et al., 2011; Hvolby, 2015; Sciberras et al., 2017; Thapar et al., 2013).

With so many factors up against us, how do we stand a chance of protecting against and/or improving our lives with ADHD? Thanks to epigenetics, the key is utilizing nutrition, herbs, and lifestyle. That’s not to say we can eradicate our ADHD, but we can certainly ease and improve symptoms, thus improving our overall lives.

That all said, I’m sure some of you are thinking you’ve been programmed for failure, and are doomed to live a life of struggle. Not so fast. Thankfully, in addition to the not so fun traits of ADHD, there are a lot of very fun traits attributed to this disorder. Let’s dive in, shall we?