Have you heard the word ADD and ADHD, and thought to yourself what does that really mean? What's it like to live with ADHD? Some people wonder if their child lives with ADHD or adults wonder if they have gone their whole life and not known they have ADHD. In this article, we will explore what ADHD is and how to treat it.

ADHD Definition: What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, refers to a condition in which a person has significant difficulty concentrating, sitting still, and controlling their impulses. ADHD can make it hard to function in some academic, professional and social settings.

Someone with ADHD might have trouble focusing on their work, struggle with controlling their mood, or find sitting in class all day an especially painful experience. ADHD is often diagnosed in children and teenagers. However, adults experience ADHD as well.

ADHD vs. ADD: What's the Difference?

There is no real difference between ADHD and ADD or attention deficit disorder. ADD was originally an older name for ADHD; however, the two terms are interchangeable in casual conversation. Some practitioners now use ADD to describe a type of ADHD in which inability to concentrate, rather than hyperactivity or impulse control, is the biggest issue.

Is ADHD Real?

There is (rightly) a great deal of concern that ADHD is overdiagnosed, and that children and adolescents are being over-prescribed powerful stimulants in order to treat a condition that they may not even have. This is likely true in many cases. It is also important to note that even if someone is experiencing symptoms of ADHD, that doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with them.

In a review, it was found that ADHD is now the most common form of psychopathology diagnosed in children in the preschool age range. In addition, up to 40% of children by the age of four demonstrate challenges with attention that pose a concern to both teachers and parents alike.

It should be noted that the marker of four years old is not an accident. It has been shown that before the age of four, it is very hard to distinguish if a child's attention challenges are due to ADHD or because of normal and typical attention challenges that arise as children develop.

Most behaviors associated with ADHD are normal. This is especially true for young people, who may grow out of their behaviors in a few years.

Are you wondering what other statistics are available on ADHD?

ADHD and Statistics

Are you wondering what ADHD looks like in numbers? The CDC keeps statistics on ADHD.

Do Many Children with ADHD have Another Disorder?

There are also three other conditions that have been connected to or linked to children and adults living with ADHD, They are:

1. Depression

2. Autism spectrum disorder

3. Tourette Syndrome 

Although once thought of as a condition that only causes a challenge for children 50 to 80% of individuals with ADHD as a child will also experience ADHD symptoms as an adult.

However, just because ADHD is probably overdiagnosed doesn't mean that the symptoms should be ignored. Some people really do struggle with ADHD, and need help in order to move forward. If you decide your symptoms are a problem, then seeking treatment is appropriate.

How is ADHD Diagnosed?

There is no test that you can take to conclusively see if you have ADHD.

Diagnosing someone with ADHD is usually the result of an assessment process conducted by a qualified health professional.

Observation: By parents, teachers, and other responsible adults in a child's life

MRI: Can show the neurological differences in the brain associated with ADHD

Assess: For other underlining and connected conditions including celiac disease, depression, toxicity, gut health, and inflammatory disorders

What are the Symptoms of ADHD?

Symptoms of ADHD may vary from person to person, and according to age. ADHD is often broken down into three main types. The symptoms of each type of ADHD include:

  • Inattentive: Inattentive ADHD is also often called ADD. A person with inattentive ADHD struggles with functioning in ways most people take for granted. They may find it very difficult to focus, concentrate and get things organized or done on time, and often get distracted or bored easily.

  • Hyperactive-impulsive: A person with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD is often highly energetic, and struggles with impulse control. They may have trouble sitting still, appear restless, talk loudly and often, and seem impatient. They may also not easily conform to social norms or expectations.

  • Combined: People who experience symptoms of both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive ADHD are said to have combined ADHD.

6 Additional ADHD Symptoms for Teens and Adults

In addition, many people with ADHD (especially teenagers and adults) struggle with the following:

1. Controlling their emotions

2. Strong, unexpected shifts in mood

3. Depression

4. Anxiety

5. Low tolerance for stressful situations

6. Quick temper 

This can make maintaining relationships with others more difficult. Teens and adults with ADHD are also at increased risk for developing substance addiction and depression.

What are the Causes of ADHD?

There are a number of factors that influence the development of ADHD. A combination of neurological differences and various outside stressors seem to come together to create symptoms of ADHD. These factors include:

8 Brain Differences Connected to ADHD

Recent research found that people with ADHD have neurological differences. Their overall brain mass is slightly lower than normal. The following eight areas in a person's brain with ADHD were found to be smaller:

1. Nucleus

2. Nucleus accumbens

3. Hippocampus putamen

4. Amygdala

5. Bilateral dorso-lateral prefrontal

6. Orbital frontal cortices

7. Anterior and posterior cingulate cortices

8. Temporo-occipito-parietal junction 

These eight size differences were less noticeable in adults, and led to the researchers conducting the study to describe ADHD as a delayed development brain disorder.

In other words, if you have ADHD, your brain may be a little different. This is not a bad thing at all-indeed, many people ADHD are especially intelligent, creative, and talented.

Wondering what it is like to live with ADD/ADHD? The Holderness family put together a song to help answer the question: What's it like to live with ADD?

ADHD and Gut Health

An unhealthy diet also often leads to gut disorders and chronic inflammation as your body struggles to digest certain foods. Inflammation and gut health problems are directly linked to brain health and are associated with ADHD and many other mental health disorders.

Consequently, cleaning up any gut health conditions and making changes in diet to support a healthy digestive system can often significantly improve symptoms of ADHD.

ADHD and Celiac Disease

In a report written by the Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, a connection was found between ADHD and Celiac Disease.

The report was formed through a study that had:

  • 67 participants 

  • 10 who tested positive for celiac disease 

  • 6 months was how long the positive testing participants stayed on a gluten-free diet

What was discovered is that, "a significant improvement in their behavior and functioning compared to the period before celiac diagnosis and treatment..."

And so, the report recommends that celiac disease needs to be included in an ADHD symptom checklist when diagnosing and treating ADHD.

6 Genetic Markers Connected to ADHD

Although at one point, it was through that genetics played no part in a child or adult experiencing life with ADHD, now there is evidence that genetics can and does raise the chances of ADHD.

Here are two statistics on the hereditary aspect of ADHD:

Twin studies: Estimate ADHD is 70-80 % hereditary.

Family studies: Estimate a 2-8 fold increase for ADHD in both parents and siblings if children in the family have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Gene markers connected to ADHD are:

  • Dopamine transporter 1

  • Dopamine receptors D4 and D5

  • Serotonin transporter

  • 5-hydroxytryptamine [serotonin] receptor 1B

  • Synaptosomal-associated protein 25

  • SNAP25


Emotional factors are generally not considered to be a major part of what causes ADHD. However, chronic stress, endemic in modern life, plays a role in virtually all health conditions to one degree or another. Its influence should not be discounted. There also is thought to be a link between ADHD and depression, as well as anxiety. It may be that they share common causes, or that having ADHD makes a person predisposed to developing depression and anxiety.

10 Environmental Causes of ADHD

There are many environmental factors that have been found to play a part in causing ADHD. Here is a list of environmental factors that were found to be risk factors through a study conducted by and published in the Current Psychiatry Report:

1. Maternal stress

2. Prenatal tobacco exposure

3. Prenatal alcohol exposure

4. Prenatal exposure to illicit drugs

5. Prenatal caffeine exposure

6. Prenatal antihypertensive exposure

7. Prenatal antidepressant exposure

8. Heavy metal and chemical exposures

9. Electronic media exposure as children 

10. Early traumatic events in children lives 

How to Look at ADHD

Perhaps the best way to look at ADHD is as an indication that some combination of your diet, chemicals in your environment, chronic stress or other elements is putting a great deal of strain on your brain.

It can be a dashboard light telling you that something isn't working right, and that you may need to explore how to better nurture and support your body, mind and brain. Ideally, this is what treatment should aim to help you accomplish.

How do you Heal ADHD?

ADHD results in neurological differences, when combined with exposure to harmful foods, chemicals or other stressors, can get in the way of you feeling comfortable in your own skin. In other words, the problem isn't your brain, but many external factors common in modern life.

The goal of a holistic ADHD treatment is to help you make changes in your life so that you and your brain can experience wellness-whatever that may look like.

Holistic doctors and psychiatrists treat ADHD primarily through nutrition and lifestyle changes. This may include changing your diet, using essential oils, supplements or herbs, and detoxifying your system, as well as addressing any root health conditions that may be contributing to your symptoms of ADHD. Talk therapy, exercise, and mind-body techniques can also be important parts of treatment.

Medication for ADHD and ADD

ADHD is most commonly treated with stimulant medications. However, these medications are often highly addictive, many are chemically similar to methamphetamine, and also pose significant health risks, especially if taken for an extended period of time. They have also been found to be significantly less effective than interventions like behavioral therapy at actually improving ADHD symptoms.

ADHD Natural Treatment Options

Lifestyle Changes

Two key lifestyle changes that can help most people with ADHD are getting enough exercise and sleep. Exercise has been proven to help reduce symptoms of ADHD, helps get out any extra energy, and promotes relaxation. Sleep is also critical: your brain can't function without enough of it, and lack of sleep makes concentrating, getting organized and other executive functions even more difficult.

In addition, take it easy on yourself (or your child with ADHD). ADHD can be really frustrating, but remember that you're doing the best you can with the situation you've got. Practicing self-kindness, and supportive mind-body techniques like meditation, tai chi, or yoga, can help you feel more grounded inside and out.


Dietary changes and nutritional supplements like vitamins, essential oils, and probiotics are a major part of treating ADHD. A holistic doctor can help you with this.

Diet for ADHD

Poor diet is one of the major factors that cause ADHD. Problem foods often include:

  • Gluten

  • Diary (especially from cow's milk)

  • Sugar and corn syrup

  • Processed foods

  • Food additives and dyes

  • Artificial flavors and sweeteners

  • Soy

Many people experience a considerable reduction in symptoms after eliminating or significantly reducing these food types and ingredients from their diets. In addition, caffeine may be a problem for some people, and individual food allergies should be taken into account.

People with ADHD are also encouraged to eat certain foods. Foods that help treat ADHD include:

  • Real, unprocessed, whole foods
  • Probiotic-rich fermented foods like kombucha, kefir or sauerkraut
  • Anti-inflammatory foods like leafy greens, olive oil, coconut oil, ginger, flaxseeds or turmeric

  • Foods rich in vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids like grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, eggs, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes and black beans

  • High-protein foods

  • Antioxidants such as blueberries, blackberries, goji berries, kidney beans, kale and spinach

In short, cut out processed foods, sweets, anything artificial, cheap meats, dairy and grains as much as possible. Replace with whole, real, nurturing foods that support your gut and brain. It is also recommended that you eat smaller portions: 4-5 small meals a day instead of a few large ones. This can make a big difference.

For more detailed information on diet for ADHD and ideas on what you could be eating while treating ADHD, check out our guide

Vitamins for ADHD

People with ADHD are often nutritionally deficient, certain vitamins and other nutrients may be especially beneficial. Here is a list of helpful vitamins for ADHD:

  • B vitamins

  • Zinc 

  • Magnesium

  • Omega-3 fatty acids

  • Omega-6 fatty acids

  • Iron

  • Vitamin C

  • Vitamin D 

A holistic physician can provide more specific guidance on how to use essential oils and other supplements, and which you should take.

Essential oils for ADHD

Here are four essential oils that can have a positive impact on those living with ADHD:

1. Vetiver 

2. Cedarwood

3. Lavender

4. Peppermint 

Other supplements can also help.

Healing modalities: Who should I go see?

A holistic therapist, social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist can help assess whether or not you have ADHD, and help you create a treatment plan. They can also provide behavioral therapy, which has been found to be one of the most effective treatments for ADHD.

Likewise, naturopathic, functional medicine or integrative doctor can assess your symptoms. A doctor can also help explore any underlying health conditions - such as a gut disorder - that may be contributing to your symptoms.

In addition, they can check for exposure to toxins and allergies, determine if you are nutritionally deficient and help you plan dietary changes you may want to make.

Perhaps an ideal treatment team would involve working with both a holistic physician and a therapist. A nutritionist can also help you make necessary dietary changes.


Antshel, K. M. (2015). Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Oxford Clinical Psychology. doi:10.1093/med:psych/9780199733668.003.0002

Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). (2018, September 21). Retrieved November 7, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html

Duffy, F. H., Shankardass, A., Mcanulty, G. B., & Als, H. (2017). A unique pattern of cortical connectivity characterizes patients with attention deficit disorders: A large electroencephalographic coherence study. BMC Medicine,15(1). doi:10.1186/s12916-017-0805-9

Katzman, M. A., Bilkey, T. S., Chokka, P. R., Fallu, A., & Klassen, L. J. (2017). Adult ADHD and comorbid disorders: Clinical implications of a dimensional approach. BMC Psychiatry,17(1). doi:10.1186/s12888-017-1463-3

Katzman, M. A., Bilkey, T. S., Chokka, P. R., Fallu, A., & Klassen, L. J. (2017). Adult ADHD and comorbid disorders: Clinical implications of a dimensional approach. BMC Psychiatry,17(1). doi:10.1186/s12888-017-1463-3

Mahone, E. M., & Schneider, H. E. (2012). Assessment of Attention in Preschoolers. Neuropsychology Review,22(4), 361-383. doi:10.1007/s11065-012-9217-y

Matthews, M., Nigg, J. T., & Fair, D. A. (2014). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Current topics in behavioral neurosciences, 16, 235-66.

Niederhofer, H. (2011). Association of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Celiac Disease. The Primary Care Companion For CNS Disorders. doi:10.4088/pcc.10br01104

Nigg, J. T. (2013). Attention deficits and hyperactivity-impulsivity: What have we learned, what next? Development and Psychopathology,25(4pt2), 1489-1503. doi:10.1017/s0954579413000734

Verlaet, A., Maasakkers, C., Hermans, N., & Savelkoul, H. (2018). Rationale for Dietary Antioxidant Treatment of ADHD. Nutrients,10(4), 405. doi:10.3390/nu10040405

Update on Environmental Risk Factors for Attention-Deficit ... (n.d.). Retrieved November 7, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3277258/