This topic hits close to home for me. I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was about 16 years old during my junior year in high school. My primary physician was hesitant to put me on any medications, but she eventually decided it would be best if I tried a drug called Vyvanse. Boy did it work… The focus I gained was magical. And I stayed on that medication through college and graduate school. When two autoimmune conditions appeared after my undergraduate degree, I started my entire wellness journey. This was when I decided that Vyvanse was not a long-term solution for my ADHD. I never considered myself someone who has an addictive personality, I hate to admit, it was very difficult for me to discontinue Vyvanse. Under the guidance of my doctor, we tapered me down, and eventually weaned me off. Which I failed at the first time, and she had to re-prescribe me, and try tapering me down again. The second time it stuck. But it was not easy.

While I was at graduate school, I found out I had access to a school psychologist. I started seeing one and saw her for about three years towards the end of my master’s degree and into my PhD. We focused on addressing my ADHD, how to manage and cope with it, without medications. Managing my ADHD is a daily battle and still is. It never goes away. But having the right tools and foundation to manage it, is what has kept me off Vyvanse for years now.


What is ADHD? ADHD is defined as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. It is a condition that causes one to have hyperactivity, impulsiveness and difficulty concentrating. It commonly starts in childhood but can persist through adulthood. Vyvanse is one of the commonly prescribed stimulant medications for ADHD. Side effects of Vyvanse can include: loss of appetite, decreased appetite, diarrhea, dry mouth, trouble sleeping, stomach pain, anxiety, weight loss, dizziness, irritability, nausea, vomiting. It can cause heart-related problems including sudden death in people with heart problems or heart defects, sudden death, stroke, heart attack, increased blood pressure and heart rate. It can also cause psychiatric issues like new or worse behavior or thoughts, new or worse bipolar illness, new or worse psychotic symptoms, or manic symptoms. [1] That’s no short list. It was clear that this could not be a long-term solution for me. However, if you are someone who takes medication, there is no shame in that. ADHD is extremely hard to manage, especially if you don’t have access to resources to do so. Do not discontinue your medication without speaking to your doctor first. Here are some alternative therapies that I’ve used and still practice for managing my ADHD. Mostly all can be used in conjunction with your medications.


Therapy

I was seeing my therapist every two weeks to assess my mental health and ADHD. My therapist and I worked through a workbook called “Mastering Your Adult ADHD: A Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment Program, Client Workbook (Treatments That Work)” This can be found on Amazon. My psychologist had the therapist edition of the book, and I had the workbook. This book breaks down different systems to help cope with your ADHD. My favorite one was list making. Quite often we make lists with goals that we know are not achievable that day. So instead, you create a list, add your tasks, add the date you assigned them and the date they are due. This helps you prioritize what is important while also being mindful of tasks that have been on that list for a long time due to procrastination. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be extremely beneficial for those with ADHD. [2] It can be overwhelming as a parent to know what to do, there are some positive parenting training styles that you can use with your children known as the Triple-P-positive parenting program. [3][4] Talk to school counselors about Individualized Education Program (IEP) services, such as peer tutoring, computer-assisted instruction, and task-modification instruction if your child is struggling in the classroom with ADHD. [5] [6]


Exercise

Any form of movement is good movement. A study looked at children who played sports and saw significant improvements in the child’s memory and attention. [7] Sports can also be rewarding for those with ADHD if they struggle to focus in the classroom, it is great for them to succeed in something else and can help boost self-esteem. Another study found being outdoors can help reduce symptoms of ADHD.[8]


Nutrition

Studies have shown that the removal of artificial food coloring and preservatives have reduced core symptoms of ADHD.[9] [10] [11] Replacing processed foods and sugars with wholesome nutrient dense foods can help symptoms of ADHD. Try replacing processed snacks with vegetables and fruit. Fruit with yogurt or vegetables with peanut butter or hummus can be great substitutes for chips and cookies. Be sure to consume a diet with quality fatty acids, such as fish, nuts, avocados, eggs and grass-fed beef. [12]


Supplements

There are some supplements that can aid in the treatment of ADHD. It is always best to get minerals and vitamins from the foods you eat, but when one cannot, supplementation can help. Studies have shown supplementing with Vitamin D and Magnesium can help symptoms of ADHD.[13] Vitamin B6, zinc and iron could also be helpful in reducing ADHD symptoms in those with deficiencies experiencing symptoms of ADHD.[14] CBD/hemp oil can be beneficial, especially for sleep. Do keep in mind, CBD products can interact with your cytochrome p450, which is a family of enzymes that metabolize drugs. So be sure to take CBD products at different times (at least 3-4 hours apart) from other medications.  Certain botanical agents can also aid in reducing symptoms of ADHD. In one study, Ginko biloba given in 240mg daily for 2-5 weeks reduced ADHD symptoms.[15] [16] Ginseng showed some improvements in attention and hyperactivity. [17] [18] A clinical trial conducted on Water hyssop (Bacopa monnieri) was found to reduce core symptoms of ADHD. [19]


Essential Oils

Essential oils can contain chemicals and terpenes that can have relaxing effects on the body. They can be used in conjunction with different meditation styles and breath work. Diffusing EOs before bed can help calm and relax the mind. Some EOs that are beneficial for those with ADHD include: lavender, vetiver, cedarwood, sandalwood, frankincense, chamomile and ylang ylang. A case study conducted by Dr. Terry Friedman found vetiver to be the most effective EO for reducing symptoms of ADHD, then cedarwood and lastly lavender using an aromatherapy inhaler.[20] However, any smells that induce a relaxing state of mind can be beneficial for you, and this can vary person to person depending on which scents we enjoy.


Sleep

Quality sleep is vital for those with ADHD. Which is why meditation and exercise can help us calm our minds and sleep better at night. Avoid blue light and screens before bed. Try reading a book. If you are someone who is flooded with thoughts before bed on what you need to be doing, take 10 mins before going to bed to write down those thoughts and things that you need to do tomorrow. Melatonin can also be used for short-term periods to aid in sleep.


Meditation

Ok, I know what you’re thinking. “I’ve tried meditation, and it’s hard, it’s not for me.” Have you heard of finger tapping? Emotional freedom technique (EFT) tapping is a form of meditation that involves affirmations and finger tapping. The reason why I like this style of meditation is because it works, but you are not sitting completely still like you would with other forms of meditation which is why it helps for those with ADHD. I won’t explain the logistics of it here but here’s a great article breaking it down.[21] YouTube also has great videos. Try improving your breathwork by practicing different techniques. There are a lot of online resources available.


Phone Tips

One of my favorite apps during grad school was Freedom. [22] This app blocks distracting apps on your phone and computer during the time periods you set for it. You can easily create a list of your most distracting apps while also allowing notifications for apps like phone calls to still come through. If you have more self-control, try simply adding app limits in your phone settings to give you a reminder when you reach your daily time limit.

 

Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Please speak to your doctor before adding any supplements if you have any pre-existing health conditions, take medications, and or are pregnant, planning to be or breast feeding.

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Dr. Aneeta Uppal, PhD

Dr. Aneeta Uppal, PhD

Dr. Aneeta Uppal did her undergraduate degree in biotechnology from RIT. She completed her Masters and PhD in bioinformatics at UNC Charlotte. Her passion for human health was always a focus of her learnings. She has experience in microbiology, molecular biology, tissue culture and bioinformatics. During her PhD she studied the molecular mechanisms of essential oils on human health and that is when her passion for plants for human health applications really took off. She currently works for a seed company called Vindara. Vindara breeds plants for vertical indoor farming with a focus on bringing key nutrients, colors and flavors back into traditional crops.