Let's first look at what ADHD is, so we can later relate the natural medicine treatments. ADHD is a genetic disorder resulting in imbalance in neurotransmitters in the prefrontal cortex, causing it to not function properly. There are also structural changes, such as reduced reward pathways, and a difference in the frontal lobe development.
These parts of the brain are towards the front of your head, and are all related to conscious thought and what we call "executive function". Executive function is the planning, organising, short term memory etc. I.e. all those things that make your life function well. The prefrontal cortex is also responsible for the inhibition of inappropriate behaviours.
While certain important brain pathways are working normally, the regions involved in attention, impulse control, and stimulus integration abilities, are not fully active. It's important to remember that ADHD is a widespread affliction that we are just beginning to understand.
Neurotransmitters in ADHD
ADHD is caused by many things, one is a chronic deficit of serotonin (5-HT) in brain, in the gaps between neurons, may trigger symptoms of ADHD. Neuro-anatomical investigations suggest that serotonin may regulate behavioural domains of hyperactivity and impulsivity in ADHD.
We also have reduced dopamine production and fewer dopamine receptors, which both leads to a reduced dopamine system. Which means that we don’t have all the benefits of dopamine, such as calming, satisfaction, as it's feeding the reward system. Nor-epinephrine is the third very important neurotransmitter in ADHD. This hormone has a double edged sword, as it both responds to stress by increasing our blood pressure, but also contributes to your brain’s ability to store memories, helps you wake up, increases attention and focus, as well as supports emotional health.
ADHD medicine – stimulants
So, how do the stimulant medications work? Well, they stimulate an increased release of dopamine and nor-epinephrine from the brain, and then also stop them from being absorbed and broken down, so they can be reused. I.e. when the dopamine and nor-epinephrine travel between neurons with their messages, the receiving neuron will automatically absorb it when it’s done and break it down. The stimulants stops this absorption, and the dopamine and nor-epinephrine can be reused. Therefore we feel better for longer as we get more use out of the little we can make.
NOTE: there is no natural supplement that will mimic this action exactly. If anyone tells you they can treat your ADHD naturally by mimicing this action, they are lying. We can enhance your dopamine production, and even the pathways between dopamine and nor-epinephrine, but we cannot mimic amphetamines. More on what we can do later.
Other medications that may be prescribed for ADHD are anti-depressants, as these will also impact serotonin and dopamine. If you find one that works for you, stick to it. Remember, we are dealing with a dysfunction in the brain structure. This is not a temporary dip in neurotransmitters, but a natural deficit. Natural medicine can support your production of your neurotransmitters, and enhance the effect your medicine has, but we can’t replace medicine.
When the medicine stops working
They might not stop working completely, but you may see a reduced improvement of symptoms when you take your medication. Maybe you are taking a higher dose, and without the same effect as before, all you feel is wired?
Usually this is because your body has run out of building blocks to make the all important neurotransmitters. So this is where natural medicine is the most useful. We can provide targeted amino acids, with vitamins and minerals as co-factors which may increase your natural production of these neurotransmitters..
The next thing which the ADHD (and autistic community) talk a lot about is burn-out. Basically this happens when you run out of all the neurotransmitters, including the nor-epinephrine. Usually adrenaline is low at this stage too, and you feel like nothing can ever make you feel motivated or excited about anything.
To recover from burn out, you have to teach your body to not be in over drive all the time. To slow down and to rest. Burn-out happens when the body has been under pressure for too long and the adrenals can’t keep up, and won’t produce enough adrenaline and nor-epinephrine for every day use.
This is where natural medicine is at it’s absolute best, and we can nurse you back to health. Some people say that you can never fully return from burn-out, but I don’t agree. It just takes a very long time. You have to work at many different aspects of your health at the same time.
Next blog will discuss food, exercise and lifestyle choices in ADHD and how you can become the master of your own destiny.