Focalin, AD(H)D, and Nutrition

Focalin is interesting because various foods clearly boost or inhibit its function. It magnifies the effects of food on concentration. I have been on Focalin now for about 5 months and have noticed the following:

  1. Protein boosts the medication dramatically; however, for me this can become like an addiction in itself. I ended up eating too much protein for a while.
  2. When I was slightly low in iron, taking multiple iron pills had a dramatic effect on my ability to concentrate. Once my hemoglobin normalized, the pills caused me serious problems, which I think is due to having thalassemia minor (uncommon blood trait). My family members have reported experiencing the same thing: increased energy at first, and then the pills made them tired/sick or produced blood in their urine.
  3. Magnesium appears to also have a dramatic effect on concentration, though right now it seems to be causing me other health problems, so I am avoiding it. Magnesium definitely makes my heart race while on Focalin, and I seem to get a little jittery plus have a hyper-intense concentration in which I am more productive. This report is based on taking a few magnesium pills, plus researching which foods are high in magnesium.
  4. Eating too many carbs sometimes dramatically interferes with my energy level and ability to concentrate, presumably by blocking protein absorption, though this hasn’t happened lately.
  5. I was a little low in Vitamin D in October and December. Vitamin D pills definitely give me energy, reverse depression, and seem to enhance concentration when combined with appropriate amounts of calcium.

Of related note are these facts that I’ve researched:

  1. Dopamine is made directly of amino acids (protein).
  2. Iron and magnesium are known to be important in the production of dopamine and/or norepinephrine.
  3. Carbs block protein absorption.
  4. Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption and utilization of calcium. Calcium is known to be important in nervous system function.

Okay, so the question is: why did neither my psychiatrist nor my therapist ever suggest these things? Even after I mentioned some of these experiences to my psychiatrist, she merely said, “Huh,” made a note of it, and refilled my prescription.

My doctors are a whole other issue that I can only begin to touch on here. One doctor refused to prescribe me Vitamin D because she’d rather suggest psychosomatic disorder even though my symptoms clearly matched up to Vitamin D deficiency. Which the test reported I had. The test showed me being borderline according to their measurement, but the Vitamin D Council considers my level as being low. And this was the middle of autumn! Where did they expect me to get Vitamin D, as a vegetarian, for the next six months? Even if I was borderline within the normal range? Once one doctor suggested it was all in my head, and one single test came back without showing the cause of the problem, then there wasn’t much I could say to convince them to take me seriously. My therapist took me seriously, however. And my psychiatrist. So that was fortunate.

So I finally had my psychiatrist taking me seriously, but now I had my doctors not taking me seriously and trying to suggest new mental health problems I didn’t have.

These people are supposed to be working together to help me figure things out. After all, my psychiatrist can’t actually test me for iron levels as far as I know. I suppose she could suggest such a test to my other doctors, though, and why she didn’t, I don’t know. There were never any tests before I went on stimulants. Or after. Or when some of the stimulants didn’t work at all for me. The only reason I’m glad about this is because I’m afraid, given how controlled these substances are, that if I did improve, then they wouldn’t consider me worth helping with stimulants. Which I now believe I do need, after both taking Focalin and improving my nutrient levels.

But for all I know, the reason Adderall didn’t work for me is because at the time I was deficient in both iron and Vitamin D. Which I was. Well, I believe I was deficient in Vitamin D at that time due to my lifestyle and the numbness I got in my toes in 50-degree weather toward the end of winter. And the fact that I was deficient on October 10 of the same year, when my levels should be close to peak. I know I was slightly deficient in iron and had been for at least six and half months by the time I started on Adderall.

It would make sense that my concentration levels dropped

  1. right after I became vegan (decreased iron), and
  2. a little over a year after I moved from Texas to attend university in Washington, D.C.

I’d always spent the vast majority of my time indoors not getting much exercise or sunlight, at least since the beginning of high school. But at least in Texas, you can get Vitamin D from the sun most if not all of the year-round. And you get more of it when you do. My concentration was never stellar, but I made it through high school graduating valedictorian. In college, I started spending even less time outdoors because I was working so hard on school and didn’t have any outdoor extracurriculars. Then when my concentration went downhill, I spent even less time outdoors because I needed more time than the entire world had just to write a paper. In fact, I went from being able to at least write a crappy, unfinished last minute paper and turn it in two seconds before the deadline, to not even being able to write a single paragraph on a 4-page paper of a topic I clearly understood.

And yet. No one even asked me if it might be related to diet. I did get asked if it might be caused by anxiety or depression, which are the two favorite go-to diagnoses of mental health pros. At first I thought anxiety was the cause. And at the same time I secretly thought / feared it was all a self-discipline issue and/or that I wasn’t smart enough. Therapists were happy to go along with that. But I increasingly thought it was a self-discipline issue. That depression and anxiety were drastically caused or exacerbated by my inability to accomplish all the things I wanted to.

Oh, and did anyone suggest that Vitamin D deficiency could be the cause of my depression, either? Nope.

Finally, once I tried Ritalin, I was convinced it was this.

Now I believe it’s a combination of fundamental brain anatomy/physiology and of nutrition. Since the traits I have around concentrating and doing things are very prevalent in my immediate family, I believe it’s genetic. But it did at some point get dramatically worse. The cause was very vague to me when the change began and progressed. But I’ve gradually gained a better sense of my body and mind. If not myself, who would figure all of these things out? No one ever ordered a test of my iron levels just to make sure. Or anything like that.

I think that pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies and even mental health professionals play a part here. There’s more profit to be made in having us see therapists and psychiatrists for ever and ever; take controlled substance / addictive prescriptions for ever and ever; experiment with 20 different medications before finding what works, or not finding it. Than to simply take a blood test once a year or so, find out we’re slightly deficient in something we can easily get from food or sunlight, and maybe have us take an iron supplement for a few weeks and be done with it.

Why is so much money being put into new prescription drugs, and so little into studying the effects of certain nutrient levels on concentration, or testing people to see if that’s a potential cause of the mental problem? Why are there so few studies on the effects of iron on concentration? There’s one or two that I know of, but not enough.

I’m an ambitious person, and now I’m at least 5 years behind in my undergrad career because of all of this. When you feel like you’ve wasted the last four or five years of your life drowning in the uselessness of your own mind, to find that a huge part of the problem was a physical/medical problem you had to figure out virtually all on your own, you probably want to change the damned system. Don’t you?


Thought I’d apply for an internship with an organization helping “addiction professionals,” so I could be closer to the enemy.

Just kidding. I did apply for that internship, though. Someone’s gotta work within the system.

"You have to be diagnosed as a kid to have ADHD"

This is bullshit. First of all, it favors the middle to upper class. It favors those whose parents had the money or insurance or whatever else to get them to see a therapist and/or psychiatrist in the first place. If my dad also had ADD, and it’s an inheritable trait, why would he be likely to take me to the doctor? I never saw a doctor as a kid. My family was poor. I never had health insurance until I was required to have it by my university. My dad didn’t even have a job half the time - he was very dysfunctional. My mom was an immigrant with poor English for whom the notion of having a therapist or psychiatrist was foreign and practically nonexistent. She might have asked me what a psychiatrist was, had I brought it up. And my mom was also, herself, a bit of a nutcase. Like, my dad and bro and I all thought she was crazy. She would rant and rave for hours every day about spies who were out to get her. I don’t think she was hallucinating — just extremely, extremely paranoid. And she drank a lot. She was drunk a LOT, and as a small Asian woman, it didn’t take much. Sometimes I couldn’t tell if she was drunk or completely sober because how could she be drunk when she just got home from work (a driver by career), yet she’d be in a crazy rage screaming that my friends were terrorists and kicking them out of the house. I was telling HER to get treated for alcoholism, which she denied. I said that in anger, not out of genuinely caring about her because I didn’t believe she cared about me and didn’t know anything about therapy firsthand. My mom tried to strangle me a few times when she was drunk. She later wrote it off saying that I must’ve asked for it and that if she’d really meant to kill me she would have succeeded. She couldn’t remember the incidents.

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How closely linked are iron deficiency and ADHD symptoms? According to this article, iron affects the dopamine system, which is central to concentration. I believe I have experienced positive effects of iron supplements on my concentration.

Curious that diet was never mentioned to me as a possible issue by my psychiatrist or therapist.

Republicans turned against the individual mandate after supporting it for two decades.

And we wonder why the healthcare system is a mess…

Despite its appeal, there are some serious problems with the RDS model. I’ll name just two. We know from dozens of studies that drug or alcohol use itself leads to a reduction in dopamine receptor density, or at least dopamine receptor activation, because those receptors tend to burn out or become desensitized when we keep bombarding them with fun stuff. Now that’s getting closer to B. B. King’s complaint: The thrill was there for awhile, but now it’s gone. The question remains: is your dopamine landscape more determined by your genes or by how you use them?

Dopamine is involved in the processing of negative emotions, according to this study.

The results of this experiment indicate that the dorsal striatal dopamine system is involved in the processing of negative human emotions. This is in contrast to the findings in animals in which the ventral striatal dopamine system processes both, the negative and positive emotions. Human and animal emotions are therefore, processed differently by the dopamine system. These findings suggest that impaired emotional processing observed in psychiatric (e.g., PTSD, schizophrenia) and neuropsychiatric (e.g. Parkinson’s disease) conditions could be due to dysregulated dopamine neurotransmission.