Decoding the ADHD brain

The human brain continues to baffle some of the greatest scientists, and for good reason. It consists of a mind-boggling 100 billion nerve cells called neurons. Even more complex is the ADHD brain. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder, caused in part by an oversupply or shortage of neurochemicals in the brain.

If ADHD goes untreated, the core symptoms of inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity can put unnecessary strain on your relationships and your performance at work. As a result, ADHD commonly co-occurs with other mental health issues.

The overlapping symptoms between mental disorders can make ADHD difficult to diagnose. However, with a proper balance of medication, diet, exercise and therapy, ADHD is highly manageable. It is also one of the most researched mental disorders and new findings always bring greater insight.

A deep dive into the ADHD brain
Research shows that ADHD is caused in part by unbalanced levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the regions of the brain responsible for concentration, impulse control, decision-making, judgement and social behaviour.

Forgetful? Inattentive? That is dopamine talking. Dopamine controls the flow of information to other parts of the brain and affects attention span, memory, motivation and problem-solving abilities. An oversupply of dopamine can cause attention issues and a lack of motivation while a shortage thereof can lead to impulsivity and movement disorders.

Feeling down and out? Norepinephrine is mainly responsible for emotional stability and mental focus. An oversupply can cause anxiety, stress and provide excessive energy, while a shortage is related to depression and decreased motivation.

To complicate matters, it’s not always just the ADHD talking. Roughly half of people with ADHD also have one or more additional conditions that may require separate treatment. These comorbidities can range from depression and anxiety to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), defiant, impulsive and aggressive behaviour or another psychological or neurological condition.

These conditions can co-exist or be secondary to ADHD. Co-existing or comorbid conditions exist in parallel to ADHD and require their own treatment plans, as they don’t disappear once ADHD is treated. Some conditions are triggered by the frustration of coping with undiagnosed and untreated ADHD.

A lack of focus, especially in a stressful situation, can trigger anxiety in some while triggering defiance or aggressive behaviour in others. The persistent difficulties of ADHD can lead to intense feelings of loneliness and depression. However, secondary conditions tend to be temporary and usually fade once ADHD symptoms are treated effectively.

Boost your brain health
The brain is a powerful muscle that can be kept in shape with a little exercise. A combination of the right treatment plan, nutrition, psychotherapy and exercise will help manage ADHD symptoms. It will also increase nerve cell production and encourage the smooth flow of chemicals in the brain.

To supercharge your brain the natural way, you can include almonds, fish, apples, avocado, beetroot, green leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds, turmeric and green tea in your diet. Regular exercise, meditation and yoga are also great ways to boost your dopamine and norepinephrine levels and overall brain functioning.

With the guidance of a qualified mental health professional, the right medication can be prescribed to normalise dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain. A comprehensive treatment plan will not only help you manage the symptoms of ADHD but can improve your overall mental health to lead a more productive and fulfilling life.