Q & A Session: Can ADD Be Cured? Is It True?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Join us in another lively discussion as Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen, answer some of the most interesting questions surrounding ADD, ADHD, brain health, nutrition, sex, and more.


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Linda: Hi, I'm Linda.
Daniel Amen: Hi, Linda.
Linda: Thank you. We have a history in our family that looks like the third type of ADD, or ADHD, and I'm hearing about the anxious ADD. I identify with the anxiety, also, and see that-
Daniel Amen: Well, especially if you're raised in a family with over-focused people, they totally make you anxious.
Linda: It worked when I was growing up through a puzzle together. How do you differentiate between generalized anxiety disorder and the anxious ADD? In other words, generalized anxiety disorder combined with the type three ADD, or is it the anxious ADD?
Daniel Amen: So, how do you tell the difference?
Linda: Right.
Daniel Amen: Generalized anxiety disorder, those are people who are tidy. They're on time. They can focus for a lot. In fact, my anxiety disorder patients are early. My anxious ADD patients are late. You look at the cluster: short attention span, distractability, disorganization, procrastination, impulse control. If they have three of those and the anxiety, then that's when I think of, it's anxious ADD. Typically, my generalized anxiety disorder can focus just fine, they're early with their term papers, they're not late. They're early to appointments, they're not late. They tend to be organized. It's really, you're looking at clusters of anxiety and clusters of ADD and do they cross?
Linda: Oh, okay. May I ask another-
Daniel Amen: And you don't need Aslan to close the damn cabinet doors.
Tana Amen: Right. See, this is what I didn't think I had. I just want to point this out. I did not believe in it because I don't procrastinate, I'm not late, because procrastinating, for me ... like I had everything done early in school, did really well in school, because my anxiety was so high. That's that anxious, over-focused ADD, but I could care less about cabinet doors because something had to give. You know what I mean? I was busy doing other stuff. That's where that, "Something has to give," thing, and I just thought that was normal. You want to pay attention that you don't necessarily have all of the symptoms.
Daniel Amen: Right. It's how they cluster. Now, the over-focused ADD, which I just find endlessly fascinating, is they have the ADD symptoms and the over-focused. You can clearly be OCD and not ADD at all. It's worried, rigid, inflexible, things don't go your way, you get upset, you're counting things. I mean, you clearly can have that and not be ADD. It's very interesting because they cross a lot. Tourette Syndrome is actually the disorder that teaches us about over-focused ADD, because half the people who have Tourette's ... you know what Tourette's is, right? It's a tick disorder.
People have both motor ticks and vocal ticks. Sometimes even compulsive swearing. I actually gave a lecture to the National Canadian Tourette Foundation. I was in a room with 400 people who had Tourette's. They were barking, honking, swearing. It was hysterical. When there's that impulsivity, which is different than compulsivity, that's when I think, "Oh, they have over-focused ADD." If you get the treatment wrong ... see, if they have over-focused ADD and you give them a stimulant, you make them compulsive. If you give them a serotonin drug, you make them more ADD and they don't care.
Tana Amen: That's what happened to me.
Daniel Amen: They're more ADD.
Linda: I've been there.
Daniel Amen: I often see that combined type in children and grandchildren of alcoholics. In fact, I did my research ... my first wife grew up in a very abusive, alcoholic home. I did my research on children of alcoholics so one, I could understand her, but then also in grandchildren of alcoholics because I ended up with them. It's just so interesting. When you raise both serotonin and dopamine at the same time, so think Prozac and Ritalin, unbelievably great response to the right brain. The wrong brain, it's a disaster. My over-focused ADD tended to do really well something for serotonin, so an SSRI like Prozac, or 5-HTP would be the supplement alternative, and then a stimulant. If I only did one and not the other, I would unbalance them.
Linda: That makes sense.
Tana Amen: Again, food is so important.
Linda: That is a different diet for the over-focused. It's more of a carbohydrate [crosstalk 00:36:15].
Daniel Amen: It's a little bit more of carbs.
Tana Amen: And balanced, but the right carbs.
Linda: Right. Like, you're talking about the sweet potatoes.
Tana Amen: Right.
Linda: I do use your recipes, and those are awesome.
Daniel Amen: Thank you.
Tana Amen: Thank you.
Linda: So, I should be eating less protein if I have the over-focused, correct?
Tana Amen: You want to be more balanced and add some healthy fat to make it a more balanced-
Daniel Amen: You should be eating both.
Tana Amen: Right.
Daniel Amen: As opposed to the classic or inattentive ADD do really well with a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. It makes the over-focused ADD people mean. But we don't want you going the pasta route. What we want is, so, if you think of a plate, 70% plants, but in that, garbanzo beans, because they raise serotonin.
Linda: Okay.
Tana Amen: Avocados.
Daniel Amen: Sweet potatoes. The carbs, the healthy carbs.
Tana Amen: And the healthy fat, though, too. We don't want to lose the healthy fat.
Daniel Amen: Well, the healthy fat for everybody.
Linda: Like you're talking about [crosstalk 00:37:10].
Daniel Amen: In fact, I'm going to give you a secret. Those of you who have high cholesterol and you're taking a statin, you might want to rethink it. People who have the highest levels of cholesterol have the best brain function as they age.
Tana Amen: It's a huge myth.
Daniel Amen: People who have the lowest levels of cholesterol, like under 160, have a higher incidence of depression, aggression, and suicide. We have come to believe that cholesterol is the enemy, where, in fact, cholesterol is your friend. Your brain is 20% cholesterol, and the problem is when they mix cholesterol with sugar, then that causes disease.
Tana Amen: And inflammation. Right. It's the inflammatory diets.
Daniel Amen: It's not cholesterol that's the problem, it's the simple sugars. I don't want you eating simple sugars, you know, bread, pasta, potatoes, rice like Tana was talking about, but really smart carbohydrates like sweet potatoes. I really think of them as the over-focused person's best friend.
Linda: Okay. I could ask you questions forever. I would like to ask about the over-focused. I go through not being able to even move hardly. Like this morning, I went through hours trying to get ready for this. I'm real sleepy without medication. Is that common with over-focused?
Daniel Amen: You mean you're sleepy without the stimulant medication?
Linda: Right. Right now I'm not taking that, and I'm not around people that much. There's not the noise going off that helps the over-focused person to switch gears. Is that common to be very sleepy?
Daniel Amen: For the ADD part. The first thing I'd be thinking about is, what's your thyroid like?
Tana Amen: Right. Get your rest of your numbers checked.
Linda: Okay.
Tana Amen: Because you don't always just want to think just ADD, you want to get everything checked.
Linda: Right. Keep everything in balance and make sure everything's okay.
Tana Amen: Absolutely.
Daniel Amen: If you have low energy, I'm thinking about your hormones, especially estrogen and thyroid.
Linda: Okay, that sounds great.
Tana Amen: Vitamin D, testosterone.
Daniel Amen: Testosterone. Yeah. That's why in the program ... so with this program, we're going to have a program called Healing ADD at Home in 30 Days. In the first week, you got to go get your lab work done.
Tana Amen: Everything.
Daniel Amen: Because if you don't get your lab work done, how do you know? If your thyroid is low, you feel like you have ADD. You just, you can't move, you can't think. A little bit of thyroid can make a huge difference.
Tana Amen: Yeah. I just want to add, it's so interesting because I have thyroid issues. They keep me on thyroid, very high doses of thyroid, probably forever because I've had thyroid cancer three times. I got scanned one time when I was going through thyroid treatment when my thyroid was low. My scan came back really wacky. I didn't really put it together that it was because my thyroid was really off. Then we talked. I'm like, "Oh, okay. My thyroid medication is off." It made my scan look really screwy.
Daniel Amen: Thyroid disease is actually commonly associated with ADD.
Tana Amen: Right.
Daniel Amen: I think everybody should get their thyroid checked on a regular basis.
Linda: I could keep asking questions, but I'll allow others to ask questions. Thank you guys so much.
Daniel Amen: Thank you.
Tana Amen: Absolutely.
Thomas: Hello, my name's Thomas. I have a question. It seems that every other adult might have one or two, or maybe even more of these symptoms. If overlooked as a child and just thinking he was more of a problem child, how does one as an adult, who never actually got, I guess you could say, tested for it, ADD, know if he actually has ADD without being brain scanned?
Daniel Amen: The most common way ADD is diagnosed is really by understanding the story of your life. If you look back on your life, and I talked about those five hallmark symptoms, if you've had a short attention span ... now, everybody has a short attention span at some point, but we're talking about a short attention span that interferes with your life. If you're easily distracted, disorganized, tend to procrastinate, and you get yourself in hot water by saying or doing stupid things, that's when I think, "Okay, we really have to look at this." There are other things that can cause it, being exposed to pesticides, which is why we like buying organic food. Now, we understand not everybody can buy everything organic. There's a wonderful website called the Environmental Working Group that tells you which foods you absolutely should buy organic, they're called the Dirty Dozen, and which foods, like bananas and avocados, you really don't have to buy organic.
Tana Amen: The Clean 15.
Daniel Amen: If you have it, and it's not treated ... I mean, the statistics are just a disaster. When you look at the incidence of ADD in prison, or the incidence of ADD in substance abuse programs, or the incidence ... it triples the risk of Alzheimer's Disease because it's associated with a lot of the risk factors of Alzheimer's Disease, like obesity or diabetes-
Tana Amen: You're making bad choices.
Daniel Amen: ... or a head injury.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Daniel Amen: People with ADD don't live as long because of the impulsivity. I was sort of kidding with the running with the bulls, but that's the kind of thing that they do. Where people are a little bit anxious like me, it's like, "Are you crazy? What rational person would do that?"
Tana Amen: Well, and it's so funny, because when he first came up with that scan, I looked at it and I go, "Oh, I always wanted to do that when I was young." I always wanted to go to Spain and see that.
Daniel Amen: Thomas, so this is actually the Thomas in the show, and we are grateful that you allowed us-
Tana Amen: Thank you.
Daniel Amen: ... to use your story.
Thomas: Thank you, I appreciate it. It's an honor for me to have [crosstalk 00:42:58].
Daniel Amen: This was mostly through food and exercise, right?
Thomas: Yes. Yes.
Daniel Amen: Tell the group what kind of differences ... you know. I mean, we told your story, but tell us a little bit of your story.
Thomas: Oh, it's amazing. When I first, like I said, when I first came in, I was weighing 250 pounds. I weighed myself just about a couple of days ago, and I'm about 175 right now. That's through rigorous ... The eating plan has helped out so much. It has helped me focus on what I need to do, on what I need to accomplish. My exercise has gone from 15 minutes to, I can actually workout to about two hours. I actually feel very proud of myself, because about two or three weeks ago I actually ran on a treadmill 13 miles. It took me an hour and 20 minutes, or 40 minutes. Something like that. Straight non-stop. I was just amazed at it. Where I'm at, everybody encourages me, so that gives me a little more boost on my self-esteem. I'm getting recognized. It's kind of like my head's getting a little bit big. I like it, though.
Tana Amen: But that's a good reason.
Thomas: I also, I was going to say, my son's ... I have six children. It seems like they all have ADD in one way, form, or another. My thing is this, okay, as an adult, I know I have to eat right and eat healthy, and I actually enjoy it. How can I implement that with my children if they're so used to eating the wrong way? Or, to make it enjoyable for them without them ... because every time I try ... I used to try to feed them the vegetables. It'd be like a big ole argument, ADD argument, with everybody. Like, "No, we don't-"
Tana Amen: Yeah. There's no argument. Okay? There's no argument. I have a very strong-willed child.
Daniel Amen: Really?
Tana Amen: Yeah. I have no idea where she gets it from. The way I see it ... and I get hate mail every time I say this. I'm sorry if you're one of those people. It's okay, I have thick skin. Last time I checked, it takes like 30 days for a kid to starve. What I mean by that is, you're the parent. You buy the food. Okay? Don't make 30 decisions, make one. Don't have 30 fights, have one conversation. You buy really healthy food. You learn how to make it taste really good. You buy the healthiest tasting snacks. There's many alternatives that taste amazing. You do the best you can in that sense, and that's where it ends. Now, they're going to find a way to get food outside the house, but they don't get it inside your house. There's no conversation about it.
Daniel Amen: You model and you educate.
Tana Amen: You be the change you want to see.
Daniel Amen: You model, and then you educate. You can't ignore the six kids, and then expect them to listen to you. In our New Skills for Frazzles Parents program, you have to spend time with each of them and build a bond. So many ADD families, there's no bond because the parents are distracted, and they're always running from this thing to that thing to this thing to that thing. They just don't sit with the kids so that there can be this connection, so they look up to you, they trust you, they want to be like you. In ADD families, because you're mind is like a pinball, there's not that focused attention on them, and then they don't listen.
Tana Amen: Then there's guilt, and so then you overcompensate. Right? One of the things when we ... when I discovered how sensitive I was to gluten and dairy, and then my daughter was, we took it out of the house completely. Of course there was kicking and screaming, and she was little, but she really wanted the bread and the milk and all that stuff. I knew it was going to be a problem, and there was not going to be arguing. I was going to do it anyways, but I made it fun. You find ways to play games with your kids. I took her to the store, got her a really healthy treat while we were doing it so she'd make those positive associations. Went on a scavenger hunt. Now, I incentivized her. I told her, "For everything ... " I taught her how to read labels really early. For everything she could find to replace some of those foods we were taking out, if she could find multiple alternatives, things that she liked, we had a game. We played a game with it.
Daniel Amen: Our daughter is a capitalist.
Tana Amen: Totally. She figured out she liked shopping early on, so if I could incentivize her to find these foods ... but then we went home, and you know what? I just started playing with her in the kitchen and making foods, like making different ... we'd make up recipes. Let her make the biggest mess with me. There were no rules around it. It was like, "Oh, like, let's stick to a recipe and, you know ... " It's like, "Let's just make a mess." You got to make it fun, too, but you still stick to your guns.
Daniel Amen: The hardest one to get on board is to make sure you and your wife are on board.
Tana Amen: Right.
Daniel Amen: Because if you guys are on board together, and then ... because you have to really think about this. You have any girls?
Thomas: No. I'm actually a single dad, also.
Tana Amen: Oh.
Daniel Amen: Six boys?
Thomas: Yeah.
Tana Amen: Wow.
Daniel Amen: Oh my goodness.
Speaker 13: He's a single dad?
Daniel Amen: Well, for those of you who have girls, they're born with all the eggs they'll ever have. What they eat is turning on or off certain genes, making illnesses more or less likely to happen. The nutrition for the kids is really important, because it's not just about the kids. It turns out it's about the generations of the kids.
Tana Amen: Dad, you're not off the hook, because new research shows that you actually are in this equation also.
Daniel Amen: Not me.
Tana Amen: Absolutely. The lifestyle choices you're making when you're young are contributing to your children later, also.
Daniel Amen: I would teach them about that, but bonding, education, and you control what's fed at home. I would totally take that [inaudible 00:48:52]. They don't want that. It's like, "Well, I don't really care that much."
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Daniel Amen: You know, it's like ... or, you know, I mean, I did a lot of work with the NFL, and they said, "Well, my kid wants to play." I'm like, "Well, if he wanted to do cocaine, would you let him do cocaine?" Probably not, unless you're an idiot. Right? It's okay to say no.
Tana Amen: Yeah. I mean, my daughter, there's been times where she just didn't want to eat something when I made changes. She threw a big fit, and I'm like, "Okay, honey. There'll be something healthy waiting when you get home." She didn't eat breakfast. I'd rather her not eat breakfast than eat something really bad. Oh well.
Thomas: Thank you.
Daniel Amen: Thank you.
Chris: Hi, I'm Chris. The first question I had was, is it really possible to heal ADD? I've always thought in terms of the best you could hope for is kind of coping with your condition.
Daniel Amen: Well, if you look in the dictionary under what 'heal' means, it doesn't mean to get rid of it. It means to make it better. There's no question in my mind. People can thrive with it, and it can be radically better. Now, some people outgrow it. Your behavior either encourages that, or it discourages that. Not everybody takes medication. Some people can do it with diet and exercise. The program, the drug treatment program that we've been working with, it's mostly through exercise and through food. As Thomas was just talking about, exercise and food, and it made a radical difference for him. Does that mean it went away? No. He's still got to focus on it so that as he goes through the different stages of his life, it doesn't come back and bite him.
Tana Amen: I can tell you from a personal standpoint as somebody who didn't even really think that it existed. Now, when I look back, I'm like, "Wow. I wonder what it would have been like if I'd have had this information before." Because I was doing well.
Daniel Amen: I totally would have been a doctor.
Tana Amen: Well, and I was doing well, I thought. I can tell you, just because I have medical issues that actually mess with it also, like the thyroid, when that's off, it totally makes the ADD symptoms worse. I mean, I can tell you from a personal standpoint, and just interactions with family. I mean, I have a family who, early on, these were issues. You work on those issues and you fix the things that make it worse, and suddenly everyone's doing better and everyone's successful and everybody's getting along. It makes a huge difference.
Daniel Amen: I understand what you said. When Healing ADD first came out, my publisher wanted to put The ADD Cure on it. I totally wouldn't let him do it. They're like, "Come on. It's the difference between selling, like, 100,000 books or a million books." I'm like, "I don't care," because that would then send the wrong message-
Tana Amen: Yeah. It's not fair.
Daniel Amen: ... that I can get rid of this. No, but there's so many things you can do to heal it.
Chris: One other question. First of all, I want to say it's been really enlightening with the seven different forms of ADD. I can see all of them in my immediate family, which explains a lot of craziness. I think the first step for us, and this is not something new, but it's hard to do, is trying to elimination diet.
Tana Amen: Absolutely.
Chris: One aspect of that ... I mean, all of that's difficult in the crazy, over-scheduled, over-booked, hyper-busy lifestyle we lead around here. We're eating on the fly a lot. One part for me, personally, is the no dairy, no soy element, because I am ... like, if I go two days without dairy, I am absolutely craving it.
Tana Amen: Okay.
Chris: What's the best solution to that?
Tana Amen: Yeah. One of the reasons you're probably craving it is because the casein ... you know, there's certain things about dairy make you want it, number one.
Daniel Amen: It's insidious that way.
Tana Amen: Right. Casein is actually an excitotoxin in the brain, as well. Okay? It's not helping you.
Daniel Amen: When casein, so that's the milk protein, mixes with stomach acid, it produces something called an exorphin that works on the heroin or morphine centers of your brain-
Tana Amen: Just like drugs.
Daniel Amen: ... and says, "I need it." That's why you crave it, but all you have to do is be away from it for like six days, and that'll go away.
Tana Amen: It'll go away. If you keep doing it, you're going to keep craving it. It's just like bread and all that other stuff. Bread, which, by the way, has the exorphins really badly as well. Gluten contains it. You need to stay away from it for a week, okay, and find alternatives. Coconut milk. Almond milk. You have to have those replacements. My daughter threw the biggest fit for a week, and then it was over with. She got over it and she got healthy. You guys need to get over it and get healthy. It takes about a week. I know, I'm ... sort of have that ...
Daniel Amen: Okay. Almond milk is a wonderful alternative, but not the almond milk they make with sugar.
Tana Amen: Unsweet.
Daniel Amen: What we do, because often, if I want it, I'll just put a little bit of Stevia in it, and it tastes great. I actually think almond milk tastes better than cow's milk.
Tana Amen: Once you get used to it.
Daniel Amen: Its like, "Okay, so I can put it in tea or put it in coffee," and I'm totally satisfied.
Tana Amen: Coconut milk is great, too. You just have to ... It takes that week.
Daniel Amen: Coconut milk has actually the right kind of fat that's good for your brain.
Tana Amen: It's a paradigm shift. It takes about a week. You're going to crave it.
Daniel Amen: She has The Omni Diet, and her cookbook, they're just awesome. We were in Dallas, and we just were going around the country with her public television special, and we went to a steakhouse in Dallas. This is how you eat on the Omni Diet. We had a big salad. She ordered cioppino without the bread or the pasta.
Tana Amen: It was wild fish. And they had grass-fed steak there.
Daniel Amen: I got a New York steak, and then we shared broccoli and asparagus. At the end of the meal, I'm like totally stuffed. I'm totally happy. I looked at her and I went, "Eating the Omni way, it just ... I feel so deprived." You don't.
Tana Amen: It's so easy.
Daniel Amen: I mean, there's no suffering required. God gave you a big brain for a reason in that, when you really get this and you focus on it ... and she makes it so easy ... is you feel better. Your energy's better. Your focus is better. But our society's out for you. They are out to make as much money on you from the food standpoint, and then to get you sick early because the medical establishment totally makes money on illness. As opposed to England, where everybody pays if people get sick. England actually took away food dyes and food additives, because there are studies that say, "If you eat this, you have more ADD." They went, "As a society, we pay for people who are sick, so we're not going to do that." In the United States-
Tana Amen: We have no incentive.
Daniel Amen: ... people who are sick pay, and, you know, it's not a great model.
Tana Amen: No.
Chris: Thank you.