adhdNew research shows that mental illness is very common, but many people don’t know if they have it or not. It’s reported that more than one in four adults per year have some form of mental illness. Many of those cases are mild, but an approximate 14 percent has moderate or severe mental illness.

The lifetime prevalence of mental illness is even higher. Nearly half of the population will meet the criteria for at least some type of mental illness sometime in their lifetime. Mental illness is a broad category that encompasses many different disorders.  The most common conditions include attention deficient hyperactivity disorder, attention deficit disorder, anxiety/panic disorders, depression, bipolar and schizophrenia.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD) symptoms often present themselves in childhood but continue into adulthood. The troubling symptoms permeate and cause problems at home, school, work, and in relationships.

Some experts suggest that ADHD can occur in 8 to 10 percent of school-aged children. The classic problem that children face is having a difficult time paying attention or concentrating. This results in the inability to follow directions, complete tasks and inhibits their ability to function in their every day lives.

Researchers once thought that it was common for children to outgrow ADHD.  However, a growing amount of evidence supports that outgrowing the condition is less common that previously thought. Adults with ADHD often have difficulty with time management, organizational skills, goal setting and professional achievement.

To complicate the problem ADHD also impairs one’s personal life as well.  ADHD often impacts self-esteem, self-worth, drive and personal relationships with friends, family and significant others.

What are childhood ADHD symptoms?

If a child has ADHD, their symptoms usually become noticeable before the age of seven. The most common diagnosis is made between the ages of three and seven. The red flag signs of ADHD include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

Inattention means that a child is easily distracted and is not able to follow directions or finish tasks.  A child will avoid or dislike any activity that requires sitting still and often does not pay attention to instruction. Careless mistakes often happen as a child is also forgetful, loses things and has difficulty organizing daily tasks.

Hyperactivity is one of the most common symptoms but should not be confused with children being children.  Classic hyperactivity symptoms include constantly squirming, fidgeting, or bouncing while sitting.  A child often talks excessively and has a difficult time playing quietly as they are relentlessly running and climbing on everything. An impulsive child often interrupts others, has difficult waiting for his or her turn and blurts out recklessly.

What are adult ADHD symptoms?

Adults with ADHD often have lower incomes as well as higher rates of accidents, unplanned pregnancies and substance abuse than those without it.  It’s far too common for sufferers to experience low-self esteem, excessive procrastination and depression.

These symptoms are often seen in chronic lateness, forgetfulness, poor organizational skills and employment problems.  Blaming, not taking self-responsibility for ones actions and anger issues often tear apart one’s personal and professional life.

What causes ADHD?

The exact cause of ADHD is unknown as there are many components that contribute to good mental health.  The most common and researched cause is the hereditary or genetic link.  Scientists look for trends that run in families and try to identify high-risk children early.

The most important link is believed to be the imbalance of brain chemicals.  These brain chemicals can cause brain changes and result in the vast majority of symptoms in both children and adults.  Brain chemicals are also influenced by factors that one can control such as physical activity levels, stress and one’s diet.

Watching too much TV, a poor home life or poor schools are not sole causes ADHD. Eating too much sugar in general does not cause a child to develop ADHD like previously thought.  However, a proper diet is essential for healthy brain chemistry and normal development in children.

What are healthy brain foods?

The human brain is highly active and requires a constant source of nutrients to function properly.  One of the most important but forgotten about recommendations includes eating breakfast. Studies have found that eating breakfast can improve short-term memory and attention span in children. They found students who ate breakfast performed significantly better than those who don’t.

Interestingly, researchers found that high-calorie, highly processed breakfast foods actually hindered concentration versus helped it.  Avoid unhealthy breakfast cereals and pastries that are laced with excessive amounts of sugar and food colorings.

Fish is a really good brain food.  It’s rich in omega 3 fatty acids that are essential for brain function and development.  Omega 3 is one of the most researched substances today.  These healthy fats are also known to reduce cholesterol, heart disease and stroke risk as well as play a vital role in enhancing memory and mental ability.  It’s recommended to eat two servings of fish every week.

The brain is primarily composed of fat.  Therefore, it’s important for one to eat healthy fats.  Healthy fats are one’s that come from natural sources such as avocados. Avocados are considered one of the healthiest foods on the planet because they contain in excess of 25 essential nutrients such as vitamin A, B, C, E, & K, copper, iron, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium.

Vitamin and mineral supplements often claim to boost brain health. The most beneficial may include vitamins B, C, E, beta-carotene and magnesium.  It is important to note that a supplement is meant to supplement a healthy diet.  Eating foods is the most important way of getting specific nutrients that one’s body needs.

Research has shown that nuts and seeds are brain foods as well.  Walnuts, almonds, cashews and pistachios are rich in fiber and nutrients that are known to help brain function. Dark chocolate also has other brain enhancing properties. It contains natural stimulants such as caffeine, which can enhance focus and concentration.

Alcohol and tobacco use can also be a contributing factor in ADHD.  Substance abuse is known to affect the blood flow to one’s brain and it’s development. ADHD cannot be officially cured but one can take steps to reduce its impact.

In addition to eating a healthy diet, experts agree that exercise is one of the most important mental health determinants.  Children and adults that exercise are less likely to experience ADHD and individuals who have ADHD can better manage their symptoms.  Aerobic exercise is the most beneficial as it increases blood flow and oxygenation to the brain.

Additional recommendations include getting a good night sleep, reduce stress and stay well hydrated. Anyone can become dehydrated but infants and children are at the highest risk.  They are especially vulnerable because they have relatively small body weights and high turnover of water and electrolytes.  This can affect brain chemistries and be a causative factor in the development of ADHD.

Dr. Cory Couillard is an international healthcare speaker and columnist for numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and publications throughout the world. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organization’s goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.

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