ADHD and The Menstrual Cycle

There are so many conditions that are under diagnosed in women through lack of research or lack of understanding, so any conversations we can have about them are vital. 

One condition that comes to mind is ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. October is ADHD awareness month, so it’s a great opportunity to continue the conversation on a condition that more and more women are being diagnosed with. 

ADHD has typically been associated with young boys, but increased awareness over the past few years means that more women are starting to make the connection between their own experiences and the condition. 

In a nutshell, ADHD is a condition that affects behaviour, leading to lack of concentration, difficulties following instructions, time management issues, impulsivity and more. The symptoms of ADHD tend to be categorised into two groups:

  • inattentiveness (difficulty concentrating and focusing)
  • hyperactivity and impulsiveness

Women tend to be diagnosed with inattentive ADHD and one of the reasons it can be underdiagnosed is because some of the symptoms overlap with those of anxiety. 

Would it surprise you to know that there’s a link between ADHD symptoms and our menstrual cycle?

There are a few neurotransmitters (i.e. brain chemicals) that are affected by ADHD which are linked to the cyclical rise and fall of estrogen across our menstrual cycle. (Remember: our menstrual cycle is day 1 of our period through to the day before our next period starts.) 

  • Dopamine: the reward and focus neurotransmitter 
  • Noradrenaline: one of our stress chemicals 
  • Serotonin: the mood stabiliser 

After we finish our periods, our estrogen levels begin to rise, peaking right before ovulation, midway through our menstrual cycles. We then have a second smaller peak of estrogen, alongside the peak of progesterone that happens after we ovulate. As estrogen rises, so does dopamine and serotonin. 

The research shows that high progesterone (our calming hormone) and the second smaller peak of estrogen after ovulation can positively affect executive function (i.e. the skills that help us get stuff done) and attention

Conversely, the natural decline of estrogen and progesterone before our next period starts can lead to a premenstrual exacerbation (PME) of ADHD symptoms. 

Some of you may also notice that the preovulatory rise in testosterone can exacerbate symptoms related to impulsivity and hyperactivity. 

If you relate this or have already been given a ADHD diagnosis and are unsure how to manage it, here are 5 strategies to start with:

  1. Be aware of each phase of your menstrual cycle.
  2. Notice when ADHD symptoms worsen and in which phase this happens.
  3. Add in nutritional supports to help manage the body’s production of dopamine and serotonin as well as the way the body balances estrogen and progesterone levels.
  4. Plan ahead for times in your menstrual cycle when there is a pattern of ADHD symptoms worsening.
  5. Be gentle with yourself.

In my next post, I’ll talk through different ways nutrition can help with ADHD symptom management during each phase of the menstrual cycle.

Photo by Uday Mittal on Unsplash

Le’Nise Brothers is a yoga teacher and registered nutritionist, mBANT, mCNHC, specialising in women’s health, hormones and the menstrual cycle. She is also the host of the Period Story Podcast, which aims to break taboos around menstrual health and hormones. 

Le’Nise has helped hundreds of women improve their menstrual and hormone health through her private practice and group programmes, talks and workshops for the likes of Stylist, Channel 4, Boden, Ebay and TikTok and her Instagram page. Le’Nise works primarily with women who feel like they’re being ruled by their sugar cravings, mood swings and hormonal acne & bloating. They want to get to grips with heavy, missing, irregular & painful periods, fibroids, PMS, PCOS, endometriosis, post-natal depletion and perimenopause. 

Her first book You Can Have A Better Period was released in March 2022. 

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