ADD is a national health crisis that continues to grow — yet it remains one of the most misunderstood and incorrectly treated illnesses today. Kids and adults are put on powerful stimulant medications in short office visits without any biological information, and the stories of these medications hurting children and adults are common and persistent.
Board certified child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen, 8-time New York Times bestselling author of books including, “Change Your Brain, Change your Life,” was one of the first to identify there are multiple types beyond just purely hyperactive or inattentive ADD, each requiring their own unique treatments.
Dr. Amen joined Elevated Existence Magazine founder, Tammy Mastroberte, on a live call during the Living an Elevated Existence Mind, Body & Spirit Summit to discuss the seven types of ADD, how he discovered them and how the differences are important when it comes to treatment.
“I’m a child psychologist and half of the kids a child psychologist sees have ADD of one form or another, and then I found my son and daughter had it,” he said on the live call. “Before we started doing brain imaging scans, we were basically guessing at diagnosis. If you had four out of these 9 symptoms, you have ADD . . . and take Ritalin, which for the right person it is a miracle and it works. Kids can go from D’s and F’s to A’s and B’s [in school] and have a lot more self-discipline and impulse control. But you can take another person who has those same symptoms and put them on Ritalin and they become suicidal.”
Becoming frustrated with the treatments and options available, when Dr. Amen first started doing brain scans known as SPECT imaging in 1991, his first patient had ADD. She had been admitted into the hospital for an impulsive suicide attempt after a fight with her husband, and upon scanning the brain – once at rest, and again while she did a concentration task, he discovered her brain shut down completely when she tried to concentrate.
“I remember I put the pictures on her hospital table, and I said ‘the harder you try the worse it gets,’ and she started to cry. I told her having ADD is sort of like people who need glasses. People who need glasses aren’t dumb, crazy or stupid, their eyeballs are shaped differently and they need glasses to focus,” he said. “People who have ADD aren’t dumb, crazy or stupid, their frontal lobes turn off when they should turn on, and the medicine, supplements and diet changes turn them back on for you.”
But more importantly, what Dr. Amen and his colleagues discovered through the imaging is that not everyone who has ADD has the same pattern and will respond to the same medicine, which he said is also true with depression, anxiety disorders, addictions, and even obesity.
“It’s not one thing in the brain,” he explained. “They all have multiple types, and if you never target treatment to a person’s brain, you hurt people. I got hooked on imaging and over the next 22 years, my colleges and I now have the largest database on brain scans ever.”
In his newest book, “Healing ADD: The Breakthrough Program that Allows You to See and Heal the 7 Types of ADD,” he reveals the findings based on his year’s of scans, which look at blood flow and activity in the brain to show the areas that are healthy, those low in activity and those high in activity.
“There is one type of ADD where there is too little activity in the frontal lobe, and they do well with stimulating supplements or medications. There is another type where there is way too much activity – a pattern we call the Ring of Fire – and if you give these people a stimulant, 80 percent of the time you will make them worse, so we use things to calm their brain down. But if you never look at the brain, you will never know.”
The 7 Types of ADD
During the live call, Dr. Amen walked listeners through the 7 types of ADD, but explained all exhibit three or more of the hallmark symptoms of ADD, which are:
— Short attention span
— Impulse Control Issues.
“First of all, I use the term ADD and not ADHD because half of the people who have the disorder are not hyperactive,” he said. “People generally have three, four or five of the hallmark symptoms, and not just when they are going through a divorce, lost their mother or are going through menopause. This is a symptom cluster that you need to see throughout someone’s life.”
Type 1: Classic ADD – Hyperactive and restless are the hallmark symptoms here, and many tend to be active even inside the mother’s womb, said Dr. Amen. They have a short attention span unless they are interested, can be pretty impulsive, and they are very disorganized. They also tend to be extroverts.
Type 2: Innattentive ADD – These people are introverts. Like classic ADD, they have a short attention span unless really interested, can get easily distracted, be somewhat disorganized and wait until the last minute for things, but they are not very hyperactive or impulsive.
Type 3: Overfocused ADD – Described by a Harvard professor 30 years ago, for this type of ADD, it’s not that they can’t pay attention, but they can’t shift their attention.
“They tend to get stuck on negative thoughts or negative behaviors, and if you can’t shift your attention, you can’t really pay attention,” said Dr. Amen. “So five minutes ago I said something that bothered you, that you now thought of 15 times, so you have not heard anything I’ve said.”
The mechanism in the brain for Overfocused is very different from the first two types, which is low activity in the brain. For this type, a certain area of the brain Dr. Amen calls “the gear-shifter,” works too hard, so they tend to worry, hold grudges, and when things don’t go their way they get upset. They can be argumentative, oppositional, and get into loops of thinking.
“Put this type on a stimulant, and they focus more on the things that upset them and it can really make them almost obsessive,” he noted.
Type 4: Temporal Lobe ADD – We have temporal lobes in the brain under our temple and behind our eyes, which is the part of the brain for mood stability and temper control. When one of those is hurt, people have the ADD symptoms plus mood instability, aggression, memory problems and learning problems. Stimulants can make them much worse, Dr. Amen noted.
Type 5: Limbic ADD – This is where ADD, mood disorders or depression come together, but unlike depression that comes and goes, these people have a low-grade depression with the ADD symptoms all the time.
Type 6: Ring of Fire – This type is characterized by what Dr. Amen calls the “ring of fire” in the brain where people have too much going on everywhere in the brain.
Type 7: Anxious ADD – The newest type added in the revised addition of Dr. Amen’s book (which is part of his Special Package Offer) is where people have the symptoms of anxiety, nervousness, tension, tend to predict the worst, and have trouble with timed-tests or don’t like speaking in public, along with all the other ADD symptoms.
“Each of these types has it’s own treatment, and the problem is everyone who gets diagnosed with ADD gets stimulant medication, and that’s why we constantly hear the horror stories about stimulants, even though to the right person they can be really helpful,” said Dr. Amen.
Based on thousands of scans he developed a questionnaire to let people know if they have ADD and help them determine what type. Based on the answers, people get a report on what their type is because, while there are 7 types, many people have combinations, said Dr. Amen.
Treatments & Advice for Parents
While there are prescription medications available to help with certain types of ADD, Dr. Amen also advocates several natural approaches, including supplements and changes to diet.
“I’m really excited about natural ways to heal the brain. We have all had plenty of experience with medications making people worse. Many of our patients come and they say ‘I don’t want to take medications, what can I do?’ and I really felt like I needed to honor them. It starts by knowing your ADD type.”
For example, those with Classic ADD – both children and adults can benefit greatly from an elimination diet, said Dr. Amen. A study in Holland, that has been replicated, reported 73 percent show greater than a 50 percent reduction in symptoms within just one month of an elimination diet. So the first thing to do is get your diet right, he said.
“If you are Overfocused, and you got on a high protein, low carb diet, it will make you mean, so you have to get your diet right for your individual brain type,” said Dr. Amen. “If you do have Overfocused, there are natural ways to boost serotonin. One of them is exercise, and another is eating smart carbs such as sweet potatoes and garbanzo beans. Also certain supplements like 5HTP, St. John’s Wart and spices like Saffron.”
For parents who have a child with ADD, the most important thing to do is get blood work done first, Dr. Amen explained. This is one of the recommendations he gives in his plan “Heal ADD at Home in 30 Days,” which is part of his Special Offer, found at the end of the FREE questionnaire.
“If a child’s thyroid is off, he won’t get better. If he has allergies or infection, he won’t get better until you figure that out. If his iron is low, the medication, supplements or dietary interventions won’t work. Knowing your important numbers is one of the hallmark things we work on,” he explained.
It’s also important for parents to realize the harder their child tries the worse it gets for them because their brains shut off when they are suppose to turn on. Parents need to stop putting pressure on them and become their advocate, said Dr. Amen.
“Also, ADD kids and adults are often conflict seeking and adrenaline seeking. For ADD, we use stimulants, but without them, these people will find ways to stimulate themselves, and for kids, often what they do is pick on the most irritable parent in the family and work on them over and over,” he noted. “So if you scream at an ADD child, there is a part of him that likes that, and he will figure out a way to make you do it again. One of the first things we do is to teach people not to yell.”
Another recommendation for ADD is to exercise. Michael Phelps, an Olympian swimmer, took medication until the 6th grade when he realized with intense exercises – for him it was swimming – he was a lot more focused and did better, said Dr. Amen.
Fish oil can also be very helpful, but not just DHA. People with ADD also need EPA, which is more stimulating and can be helpful for those types who need it. For those who are looking to calm down, Dr. Amen recommends focused breathing, which is especially good for those with Anxious or Temporal Lobe ADD.
Sleeping & Waking Up
Both children and adults with ADD often have trouble going to sleep at night because they find themselves restless, but then also find it impossible to wake up in the morning. And for kids, if they don’t get 9 to 10 hours of sleep at night, they will be a lot more ADD the next day, said Dr. Amen.
“Also, sleep apnea, which is where they are snoring at night and not getting good oxygen to their brain – this really increases the expression of ADD, and some people think it is one of the major causes,” he noted. “Because we are not taking tonsils and adenoids out like we used to, kids are having a lot more sleep apnea problems. If you notice your kid is snoring, its important to have an ENT look in their throat to make sure their airway is not being blocked at night.”
Hypnosis CDs can help both children and adults get to sleep at night, and for parents trying to wake up their children in the morning Dr. Amen said to find music they really like and set it to start playing a half hour before they need to get up. Also, giving them their medication or stimulating supplements a half hour before they are ready to get up can help them.