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Understanding adult ADHD: How gluten-free diet and meditation can help

Understanding ADHD
Understanding ADHD
Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Do you feel constantly distracted, unable to focus and prone to acting impulsively? You may have adult ADHD, a condition that Dr. Mehmet Oz recently featured on his talk show. Dr. Oz's expert, Dr. Edward M. Hallowell M.D., is the author of "Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder" (click for details).

Dr. Hallowell describes having adult ADHD as akin to having a Ferrari as your brain - but with bicycle brakes. Translation: Your brain is powerful, but you have problems reigning in your abilities. Among the symptoms: Disorganization, always running behind, procrastination, impulsive thinking.

So what can help with adult ADHD? Meditation and exercise are two possible solutions, says Dr. Hallowell. And although it may sound impossible for someone with this condition to meditate, Nightline anchor Dan Harris has described how even those who have problems concentrating can benefit in his book: "10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story."

Dan describes how even those of us who are impatient and skeptical can become believers by giving meditation a try. Benefits for those with ADHD in particular include learning to focus and becoming less impulsive.

A change in diet can help too, according to Dr. Hallowell, in particular gluten-free diets. Using himself as an example, the physician reports that shifting to a completely gluten-free diet helped him with his symptoms and resulted in weight loss. And he's not alone in advising those with this condition to beware of wheat and related foods.

Agreeing with him: Dr. David Perlmutter, author of "Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers" (click for details). "We are seeing research showing that a much larger group of individuals suffer from what is now called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Some estimates put the number of these folks as high as 30-40% of the population. These people can also develop problems like ADHD, depression, movement disorders, dementia, neuropathy, and headaches that may well respond to a gluten-free diet," he says.

A study entitled "Association of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Celiac Disease: A Brief Report" also showed evidence that a gluten-free diet can help with ADHD. Helmut Niederhofer, MD, PhD, reported that "A possible association of celiac disease with psychiatric and psychological disturbances such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been reported repeatedly. The objective of this study was to observe whether a gluten-free diet could alleviate the behavioral symptoms in patients with celiac disease and ADHD."

The result of his research: "A gluten-free diet significantly improved ADHD symptoms in patients with celiac disease in this study. The results further suggest that celiac disease should be included in the ADHD symptom checklist."

Gluten-free diets also are sometimes recommended for children with ADHD. Several books are available on the topic, including "The Everything Guide to Living Gluten-Free: The Ultimate Cooking, Diet, and Lifestyle Guide for Gluten-Free Families" and "The Kid-Friendly ADHD & Autism Cookbook, Updated and Revised: The Ultimate Guide to the Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet."