Having trouble with focus? Feeling unorganized? Frazzled? Have you ever wondered if you have attention-deficit disorder or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder? Perhaps you have been diagnosed already and have been convinced that the problem is a dopamine deficiency in your brain that must be remedied with psychostimulants such as Ritalin or Adderall. Perhaps you are on these medications and they likely work to some degree, but chances are if you have been on them for a while, at some point they reach a plateau and your symptoms come trickling back.
It is again important to remember how subjective conventional psychiatry is. We make decisions based on somebody’s subjective reports and often fail to look for objective, physiological data. We also often fail to recognize the contextual and cultural context in which the symptoms occur. Essentially, poor focus can be due to multiple factors and just because somebody meets criteria for ADD/ADHD, does not necessarily mean they have a dopamine deficiency contrary to popular thought.
The functional medicine approach utilized at She Soars Psychiatry, LLC views problems with focus from a broad lens. Dr. Mark Hyman, a founder of functional medicine, stated wisely, “ADHD is not a Ritalin deficiency”…and he is certainly right. Medication may be helpful, but is very likely not addressing root causes. With that said, here are 5 reasons why you can’t focus that may mimic signs of ADD/ADHD:
- Tummy Troubles: Gastrointestinal distress and discomfort such as bloating, excess gas, reflux, diarrhea, and constipation can be indicators of leaky gut syndrome, yeast or candida, and/or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). The gut and the brain are intimately connected and thus, when your tummy is upset, it is likely that your brain is not very content either.
- Nutrient Deficiency: In our Standard American Diet we are often overeating, but undernourished. Deficiencies in iron, Vitamin D, B vitamins, Vitamin C, Omega-3 essential fatty acids, magnesium, and zinc have all been linked to poor focus. One study, compared the administration of Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)- a vitamin essential to supporting multiple neurotransmitters including dopamine to Ritalin or methylphenidate. Vitamin B6 performed equally well to methylphenidate in allaying symptoms and also supported serotonin and dopamine levels.
- Immune dysfunction: Infection, chronic illness/inflammation, and autoimmunity may all impact focus. Multiple autoimmune conditions including thyroiditis, inflammatory bowel disease, and Type I diabetes have been shown to be correlated with an ADHD diagnosis.
- Heavy metals & detoxification irregularities: It is basically impossible to escape exposure from heavy metals in our current environment. There are ways however to reduce the burden. Reducing exposure to contaminated soil, filtering water, investing in an air filter, and testing your home for lead are just a few. Lead, mercury, aluminum, and arsenic in particular have all been associated neurodevelopmental disorders including ADHD. Some individuals may have genetic irregularities in how their body detoxifies metals and other toxins, which makes them particularly susceptible to a toxic burden.
- Food allergies or sensitivities: Gluten, dairy, corn, soy, dyes and additives, eggs, and nuts are amongst the most common food allergies and sensitivities. It is important to note that a food allergy is different than a food sensitivity. Just because you or your child may be able to “tolerate” a food, does not mean the body is not sensitive to it. A temporary elimination diet that eliminates these more common problem-foods has been associated with significant improvement for children diagnosed with ADHD.
For a more exhaustive list of medical conditions that may mimic ADD/ADHD symptoms, check out the following list from AbleChild.org
To learn more about limiting your exposure to heavy metals, check out tips from Oregon’s Department of Human Services
If you are having difficulty focusing and would like pursue a functional medicine approach and identify your root causes, check out our services and request an appointment. We look forward to working with you!
Audry Van Houweling, PMHNP-BC, certified HNFM, DONA trained postpartum doula, Owner, She Soars Psychiatry, LLC