Kiki posted this interesting comment chronicling her experience with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD (or ADD).
I started researching diet changes because of inattentive-type ADD.
I had always had problems with concentration, even in elementary school. Fortunately, academics have always come easily to me and I never needed to really study. If I had, I doubt I would have made it through high school with my concentration/attention problems!
By the time I got to university, I was immensely frustrated. I knew the ADD was holding me back. I was tired of just sliding by and avoiding challenging work because I couldn’t focus on it, and I knew I could achieve so much more if I could only find a way to sit down and concentrate on what I was doing!
I attend a music conservatory, and my inability to concentrate was negatively affecting what I love most in the world: practicing and composing. I had to do something.
I tried Adderall and it was a nightmare. The first time I took it, I had a full-blown panic attack at work in the middle of a busy bar. My heart raced every time I took it, and a few times I had such bad chest pain and anxiety that I was afraid I might be having a heart attack. I had a constantly stiff and sore jaw because the stimulant meds caused me to grind and clench. I felt “hyper,” which I didn’t like, because I’m naturally pretty mellow and easygoing. I was always on edge and my anxiety was through the roof. Yes, my ability to concentrate improved, but only until the Adderall wore off. I hated the side effects even more than I hated not being able to pay attention, so I started Googling “ADD and diet.”
Most of the information was focused on AD(H)D in children, but I assumed the same advice would apply to adults. First I found out about food dyes, which are apparently a common cause of ADHD behaviors in children. So I cut those out. Next I read about wheat and dairy potentially causing worsening ADHD symptoms, so I cut those out too, along with things that I knew all along were bad for me but had been ingesting anyway (HFCS, fried foods, alcohol, soy, the occasional hookah.)
Within a week, I noticed improvement. I’ve now been off of crap ‘foods’ for over a month and can say amazing things have happened. I am able to concentrate for longer periods of time, but even better than that, I find myself able to get things done more efficiently.
I now practice and compose in 20-minute increments (with regular short breaks where I stretch or do jumping jacks or sprint down the hall and back), and I am able to accomplish in 20 minutes what used to take me over 2 hours. In addition to the inattention problems, I have always experienced “brain fog” and always found myself “stuck” with writer’s block whenever I tried to write music. I assumed I just wasn’t good enough to write music and should give it up, even though one of my dreams in life is to write my own opera. Ever since changing my diet, I’ve been finding it easier and easier to compose. About a week ago I almost started crying when I realized I had just sat down and wrote an entire melody without becoming distracted or fogged. It came easily to me –- NO frustrating writer’s block!
Obviously wheat, food dyes, alcohol, etc. are everywhere, even in my apartment, as my roommates always buy donuts, chips, etc. But I’m actually not tempted, because nothing tastes as good as being able to create and concentrate feels!
It is estimated that up to 5% of children have ADHD. The conventional medical response is to hand out prescriptions for stimulant medications, amphetamines such as Adderall or methylphenidates such as Ritalin. While the drugs do indeed yield benefits in the majority–reduction of impulsive behavior, extension of attention span, and reduction in long-term adult potential for substance abuse–they are not benign. Regulatory agencies have long debated just how common, for instance, sudden cardiac death is with these stimulants, a phenomenon shared by all pharmacologic stimulants. While the absolute risk is low in children, it escalates with adulthood.
So it is no small matter that Kiki completely kicked the impaired concentration, blocked creativity, and overall reduced performance of ADHD with her nutritional changes. Several small clinical trials, such as this UK study, do indeed demonstrate improvement with wheat/gluten and dairy elimination, though it is not yet clear what proportion of kids or adults can expect benefit.
But, unlike stimulant drugs, changes in diet come with virtually no added cost, no side effects, no potential for sudden cardiac death. And there are oodles of other health benefits beyond those associated with ADHD.