Author Topic: Hormesis for ADHD?  (Read 3858 times)

Offline Torvald

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Hormesis for ADHD?
« on: September 01, 2013, 11:53:57 PM »
For the past five years or so, I've had extraordinary difficulties with mental focus. I'm wondering if you have any ideas for how hormesis might be able to help with this.

Some symptoms: At its worst, I lose my train of thought every couple seconds. While doing even a simple task like unloading the dishwasher, it's like someone is interrupting me every couple seconds. When I push one task "on the stack" in order to briefly take care of something else, I often draw a blank when switching back to the first task; for example, after turning on a burner on the stove, there's a jarring few seconds when I forget what I was about to cook. I often feel like I'm standing next to a jet engine when really all around is quiet. In this state, it's hard to read more than a couple sentences without taking a break; when I push onward, I find the words going by but I'm not absorbing the meaning.

I think the main trigger is context-switching. This has become far worse since I started grad school, which calls for running several projects at once (classes + teaching + research), each in an incomplete state that needs to be picked up later. Each task-in-progress vies for attention, interrupting the others. This happens on a small scale, too: walking from one room to another, I nearly always forget why I entered the room.

This state has lifted on occasion, which might provide a clue to what's going on:
  • A couple times a year, I've had a bizarre food craving along with the expectation that the food would quiet my mind. One time it was brown rice and tuna; another time, breakfast sausage and carrots. Each time, eating the food quieted my mind even better than Adderall. The quiet mind lasted from 36 hours to about three days. Eating the same foods when I did not have a craving produced no effect.

  • When I've tried Adderall (I've been diagnosed with ADHD), my mind has quieted and I've gotten plenty of work done for several hours. I've usually developed a tolerance to Adderall very quickly, though; usually the benefits have disappeared after about three days.
My first year of grad school, I subsisted on cafeteria food: sodas and junk. Perhaps this intensified the problem. Thinking that the above experiences with food cravings suggested that I had a micronutrient deficiency, I experimented with supplements and dietary changes. Most had no effect; a few seemed to have a mild positive effect: magnesium, L-theanine, vinpocetine, Soylent, and eating a lot more leafy greens. Piracetam seemed to have had a negative effect, as did low-carbing to the point of ketosis.

I suppose prescription drugs are an option, but triggering growth through thoughtfully applied stresses sounds like a much healthier, more sustainable solution. I am stumped, though, about what kind of stress I could supply.

The prevailing theory of ADHD is that the prefrontal cortex isn't getting enough "juice" (neurotransmitters, etc.) to inhibit signals from elsewhere in the brain; hence the "paradoxical effect" that stimulants calm the overstimulated brain. Magnesium is a neural inhibitor (I had mild Chvostek's sign when I started supplementing; now it's gone). L-theanine is thought to increase GABA, which is mostly an inhibitory neurotransmitter. So, maybe there is something to the "prefrontal cortex needs more juice" theory in my case. The fact that I could suddenly switch back on and focus those few times suggests that the "hardware" for attention and executive control is all there, but is missing some crucial factor that it needs to operate.

Any theories about what's going on? Any idea for an intermittent stress I could give myself which could trigger growth of whatever regulatory system is needed to raise my "attention set point"?
« Last Edit: October 07, 2013, 03:16:33 PM by Torvald »

Offline Todd Becker

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Re: Hormesis for ADHD?
« Reply #1 on: September 16, 2013, 08:24:29 PM »
For the past five years or so, I've had extraordinary difficulties with mental focus. I'm wondering if you have any ideas for how hormesis might be able to help with this.
...
When I've tried Adderall (I've been diagnosed with ADHD), my mind has quieted and I've gotten plenty of work done for several hours. I've usually developed a tolerance to Adderall very quickly, though; usually the benefits have disappeared after about three days.
...
I suppose prescription drugs are an option, but triggering growth through thoughtfully applied stresses sounds like a much healthier, more sustainable solution. I am stumped, though, about what kind of stress I could supply.
...
Any idea for an intermittent stress I could give myself which could trigger growth of whatever regulatory system is needed to raise my "attention set point"?

Thorvald,

A few thoughts:
1.  Resist the temptation to resort to Adderall or other stimulants to treat ADD.  The harmful long term effects aren't worth it.  Read the Chapter 11 in the book "Anatomy of an Epidemic" by Robert Whitaker for an eye opening investigation of the downside of using stimulants for ADHD.
2.  For a hormetic method of using controlled stress to improve attention, I would suggest memory and concentration exercises using inexpensive software such as Lumosity (http://www.lumosity.com).  This software is very reinforcing in that it gives you measurable evidence of how your attention span is improving.

Hope that helps.

Todd

Offline Torvald

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Re: Hormesis for ADHD?
« Reply #2 on: September 22, 2013, 01:47:51 PM »
Thanks for the suggestions. I've just ordered the Whitaker book. In May, I tested myself a bunch on quantified-mind.com. Some days I found it fun and easy, and others days the same tests were quite unpleasant and difficult. So, a targeted stressor!

In the other applications of hormesis that you've looked at, have you come across this pattern of the occasional good day mixed in among bad days?


Offline Todd Becker

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Re: Hormesis for ADHD?
« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2013, 07:17:47 AM »
In the other applications of hormesis that you've looked at, have you come across this pattern of the occasional good day mixed in among bad days?

Torvald,

I'd go further and say that a mixture of good and bad days is the usual response not just to hormesis but to almost any adaptation or learning process.   Our plastic neuro-physiology does not change as a straight line; the remodelling process proceeds in fits & spurts, with backsliding mixed in.   Successful dieters and athletes know this and plan for it.

I have some further thoughts on the topic of bumpy adaptation and plateaus in my post on How to break through a plateau.

Hang in there!

Todd

Offline Torvald

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Re: Hormesis for ADHD?
« Reply #4 on: October 07, 2013, 03:48:35 PM »
Latest news:

I'm afraid I haven't tried Todd's suggested memory and concentration exercises. My current thinking is that as a grad student, I stress myself in that way all the time (reading, writing, doing math, etc.), plus I have a habit of stressing myself that way frequently anyway, by doing mental arithmetic or using a slide rule rather than using a calculator, ongoing memorization "projects" like memorizing all the geologic eras and periods, etc.

Also, my occasional bursts of calm and concentration have come sporadically, apparently the result of diet and/or sleep deprivation, not as leaps from plateaus in a long-term trend of concentration-strengthening. So, my top two hypotheses are that my difficulties with concentration are due to a nutritional deficiency and/or an irregularity in circadian rhythms.

I tried seeing a neurologist to find out what kinds of things could cause this. That turned into a minor adventure. For now, I'll just say that Anatomy of an Epidemic could not have arrived in my mailbox at a better time.

I decided to increase my intake of leafy greens, from "whenever" to "at least one cup a day". I think that has no downside and only a possible upside. Two Saturdays ago, I found that I had fasted the whole day except for eating a few nuts. Sunday, having noticed some tummy fat, I decided to go low-carb for a week or two, too. Low carb and high greens make a nice fit, anyway.

To my surprise, I was already in ketosis Tuesday morning. My one previous time doing low-carb, it took about two weeks to get more than a trace reading on the ketone reagent stick.

Not only that, my brain-scramble noticeably abated on Tuesday morning. I was able to "push" little tasks onto my mental "stack" without losing track of what I was doing and without fear that I'd forget the mental note of what I planned to do in a few minutes. I wouldn't say that I was back at a normal level of calm and concentration, but this was a definite and pretty sudden improvement.

Thursday night, I had dinner with someone at a restaurant, and slightly exceeded 100g of carbs for the day. Friday morning, ketosis was gone, and moderate brain-scramble was back.

Any thoughts about what kind of process could explain this?


Offline Torvald

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Re: Hormesis for ADHD?
« Reply #5 on: October 07, 2013, 04:02:53 PM »
A few thoughts of my own:
  • Possibly starting off with the one-day fast may have sped up the process of getting into ketosis.

  • Unlike my previous experience with low-carb (a year ago), I know a few more tricks. For example, Sunday night, I had whipped cream with raspberries—a "big hammer" of ketosis-inducing fat.

  • Some folks suggest that ketosis, by making the blood a little more acidic, reduces the activation level of neurons in the brain, and this might be why ketosis sometimes cures epilepsy. I don't understand the (hypothetical) connection very clearly, though. But I do observe that brain-scramble is strongly correlated with feeling "wound up" or "keyed up" for no apparent reason.
BTW, when I did low carb a year ago, I did not experience any reduction in brain-scramble. In fact, I was tired all the time, too (possibly because, not knowing enough about low carb, I was finding it difficult to get enough calories each day without overdosing on protein).

Offline Todd Becker

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Re: Hormesis for ADHD?
« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2014, 11:15:08 AM »
Torvald,

Seems you were making some progress with ketogenic dieting to achieve mental clarity in October.  Where do things stand now?

Todd

Offline Torvald

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Re: Hormesis for ADHD?
« Reply #7 on: April 17, 2015, 08:57:09 AM »
Seems you were making some progress with ketogenic dieting to achieve mental clarity in October.  Where do things stand now?

Sorry for my incredibly slow reply (>1 year!), but thanks for asking! Here are some results, including one interesting new development, which you or someone else here on Getting Stronger might be able to offer some insight into.

Various results

(Skip this paragraph to get to the surprising new development.) Continued experimentation with ketogenic diet seemed to cause some overall benefits (as described above) but did not appear to help with brain-scramble. Travel seemed to help with brain-scramble, though inconsistently. I had two long trips (four weeks, five weeks) to Scotland, and seemed to have a very slow, gradual improvement in attention. Practice with attention-related tasks, such as quantified-mind.com, learning piano pieces, etc., seemed to have no effect. Some good days, some bad days, as usual. Dextroamphetamine seems to work, but I've always developed a tolerance to it within a few days. I'm reluctant to increase the dose, and I'm reluctant to use it at all, for the many reasons you've provided all over this web site. Of course it induces tolerance. But it's the only thing that works at all, so I've used it occasionally. Omega-3 supplements also seem to cause gradual improvement, as does eating a lot of leafy greens. The benefits seem to have disappeared very quickly when I've let up for a few days: slow improvement, fast let-down.

An astounding result

Now here's the interesting recent development: A couple weeks ago, a four-hour epsom-salt bath (combined with baking soda) gave me wonderful mental focus the next day—possibly the best mental focus I've ever experienced. I did not lose my train of thought every few seconds, I wasn't derailed by small distractions, I could easily "push my task onto the stack" to an executive level to asses the worthiness of what I was doing and then "pop" back (rather than my usual mad drive to completion of whatever I'm doing). Other good things happened, too: I stopped itching (during brain-scramble, I'm often hypersensitive to every little sensation on my skin); my eye stopped twitching; I stopped finding noises jarring or overwhelming; my feet stopped cramping up; acne cleared up noticeably; eczema between my eyebrows cleared up; my mood improved enormously; and I felt calm. Usually during brain-scramble, I feel simultaneously "keyed up", tired, and strangely pessimistic; all that went away after the epsom-salt bath.

Combined with amphetamine the next day, the epsom-salt bath worked better than anything else, by far. I've also tried it without amphetamine, and while the effect was less dramatic, it was certainly strong.

But wait! Two days after the epsom-salt bath, I crashed. From roughly 48 to 60 hours after the bath, the brain-scramble symptoms re-emerged, at their highest intensity. Even the eczema came back!

I've tried the epsom-salt bath four times now. The first time had the strongest effect, but each time, it's gone like this: sleepiness, then calmness and clarity and feeling good for about a day, and then descent back into brain-scramble. The good effects took roughly 12 to 18 hours to get going each time; each crash came after another 24 hours or so.

What's going on here??

I've done some googling and here's what I've come up with so far. The effect is surely due to magnesium absorbed through the skin. Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate, which easily dissolves in water. Magnesium deficiency would explain the twitchiness and foot cramps as well as the "keyed up" feeling and hyperexcitability. It might explain what some doctors have diagnosed as "ADHD" (at least in me). Magnesium is also a vasodilator; perhaps in addition to everything else, it's improving perfusion of the frontal cortex. ATP usually binds to magnesium when active; so, a lack of magnesium can shut down a whole lot of cellular clean-up processes, possibly explaining the disappearance of acne and ezcema.

So why the crash? Here are a few hypotheses:

1. Maybe the magnesium triggered an "opponent process": throw that stuff out! Indeed, the second time I tried it, I had mild symptoms of hypermagnesemia. The body is going to clear that very fast, because too much magnesium in the blood will stop your heart. So, probably I urinated it all out in two days.

2. Maybe my parathyroid glands stopped sending out the "reload calcium" signal during the high period, causing me a brief bout of hypocalcemia, which also explains hyperexcitability. From what I've read, the parathyroid glands can't distinguish between high magnesium and high calcium in the blood, though they're more sensitive to calcium. If magnesium concentration gets very high, the parathyroid glands will "think" you've got too much calcium. Early on the second day (when, presumably, the parathyroid glands have gotten the message that calcium is now way too low), I felt cravings for dairy products, and guzzling milk seemed to help, so I think there's something to this hypothesis.

3. Maybe the magnesium sulfate actually fed a bad biofilm in my intestines. On this hypothesis, the good effect happens before the biofilm grows enough to counteract it. I think this is unlikely, though, because absorption through the skin does not go through the intestines.

4. Maybe once the magnesium deficiency was fixed, that exposed another mineral deficiency—say, potassium. The potassium (or whatever) gets used up, aided by the now-sufficient magnesium, and then the crash comes. I doubt this, though, because the effect seems repeatable.

Right now, I figure hypothesis #1 is the most likely explanation of the most important factor. This raises a couple new questions. Why doesn't ordinary dietary magnesium absorption provide enough? And why am I urinating it all away? Do I have a magnesium "set point" that's way too low, perhaps correctable by hormesis, or is there something about absorption of magnesium sulfate that leads it to the blood (where it'll soon go out in the urine) rather than the inside of cells (where magnesium binds to ATP)?

What do you think?
« Last Edit: April 17, 2015, 09:03:44 AM by Torvald »