ADHD and Hormones
Recently, the connection between ADHD and hormones has become a bit of a special interest of mine. My pattern-recognizing brain started noticing well, a pattern to when my ADHD seemed worse. There also seemed to be a pattern to when my meds didn’t work as well. So I did what every good little neurodivergent would do and I googled some things.
As a result of said googling things, I learned some cool things which is, in my opinion, the best part of googling things. I’ve found some of this information to be really helpful. Not only for understanding myself better but also to have more realistic approaches to planning and managing my life. Always one for info dumping and over-sharing, I’m here to put those habits to good use. I hope within this infodump you find at least something helpful to your own life.
The Connection Between ADHD and Hormones
There hasn’t been extensive research on the connection between ADHD and hormones yet. However, some experts (and many women experiencing it) suspect there’s a connection. In particular, sex hormones such as testosterone and estrogen seem to have an impact on ADHD symptoms. It is important to note that there is currently no solid evidence that hormones and ADHD are linked. That’s mostly because not much research has been conducted on the subject yet, not because there’s proof to the contrary. I hope there will be more research on the subject in the future because well, I’m nerdy and want to know.
There’s a large body of research that’s confirmed the impact hormone levels have on a person’s mood and behavior. Considering ADHD is essentially a chemical imbalance of the neurotransmitters that are related to mood and behavior, it’s easy to see how there could be a connection. Research also suggests that the abnormal pathways in an ADHD brain, are pathways that may be affected by sex hormones. To sum up: the chaos in your brain be chaosin’.
ADHD and Hormones in Men
Studies have shown that exposure to sex hormones at the beginning of life (from 8-24 weeks of gestation and again during postnatal development) can impact how the nervous system and corresponding behaviors develop. In early life, testosterone can have an organizational effect that can alter neural structures more so than exposure during puberty. Testosterone has also been found to influence the brain circuits that process dopamine. This can lead to an increased risk of developing disruptive and inattentive behaviors.
Other research has found that testosterone can slow down neural development in a way that leaves males more likely to develop hyperactivity or a learning disorder. Some researchers think ADHD is diagnosed in boys more frequently because of how sex hormones affect a male ADHD brain. Come puberty, the next flood of hormones disrupts the circuits of the brain that are related to ADHD symptoms. This can lead to the surfacing of externalizing behaviors that are prevalent in boys. Some examples of externalizing behaviors include aggression, bullying, defiance, theft, and substance abuse. To clarify, I am by no means claiming all males with ADHD will become violent criminals. I just think it’s a useful framework to have. Both for understanding and working to resolve any externalizing behavior that may develop in a neurodivergent male. For anyone neurodivergent who develops substance abuse or other externalized behavior, any treatment plans need to factor in the role ADHD and hormone fluctuations can play.
ADHD and Hormones in Women
Everyone loves talking about women and hormones as if men don’t have hormone cycles and mood swings also. So naturally, there’s quite a bit more research about how hormones affect women with ADHD compared to their male counter-spices. At this point, you’re probably not surprised to be told that hormones really eff with the female ADHD brain. For women with ADHD, the hormones brought by puberty often exacerbate their symptoms and leave them highly impaired. The joys of being a woman mean that we get to experience this again during perimenopause and menopause, hooray!
To make it really simple, when estrogen levels are low, ADHD symptoms tend to be worse. This was proven to be consistent among women whose average estrogen levels are lower than usual throughout the entirety of their menstrual cycle and could be used to predict ADHD symptoms. Additionally, it was found that among women with below-average estrogen levels during periods of above-average progesterone levels, this could be used as a predictor of worse ADHD symptoms two days in the future. This is consistent with the luteal phase which follows ovulation and brings with it a drop in estrogen. Worth noting is that these ovarian hormones and their wily impacts were only significant amongst women with emotion-related impulsivity or high-sensation seeking. This means that the spicy-brained get extra spicy while the NTbbs don’t experience the same onset of frustrating symptoms. Naturally, I’ve made visuals.
Visualizing the Impact of Hormones on ADHD
A very simplified chart of hormone shifts throughout the menstrual cycle.
These are the different phases of the menstrual cycle with dinos displaying moods typical to each phase.
Note: this is a general guideline. Everybody is different – some people have slightly longer cycles. Some people have fewer bleed days, and other variations to their cycle and symptoms throughout. What’s important is to know your body so you know if something seems [extra] off.
Here is how those hormone changes impact ADHD and the effectiveness of ADHD medications. So fun, right?
Your body tries to give you another little burst of focus between estrogen drops after ovulating but progesterone says: “Nah!”
So fun. Thank you for trying, body.
Here’s a visualization of what the last graph means in terms of mood.
Thank you for taking this ride with NeuroSpicy Nonsense, please peruse the gift shop on your way out.
Hacking Your Hormones
Sure, this information is interesting but how can you put it to use? Personally, I’ve been using this knowledge in a few areas of my life such as work, exercise, and food. Full disclaimer: Under no circumstances should you be under the assumption that I manage to do any of these consistently. While learning how to plan things around my hormone cycle has helped me start working with my ADHD instead of against it, I still have
fucking ADHD and my abilities to be consistent are limited. That being said, here are a few ways I use this information as an ADHD hack.
Food, ADHD, and Hormone Cycles
When your brain is spicy, food can be a difficult and stressful area for a wide range of sensory reasons. Making healthy food choices is difficult when fruits and vegetables can be unpredictable in textures and flavors. Add hormone fluctuations into the mix and I often want to just eat a bag of chips for dinner. However, being aware of which foods can help balance hormones is helpful knowledge because I can use it to trigger my problem-solving mode. I by no means eat all of these every day, I just use them as guidelines when I’m planning my shopping list for the week and essentially hope for the best. I also am more likely to have various snacks, candy, and cheeses around than well-rounded meals so again, these are just ideas and guidelines, not a testament to the success of a consistently well-structured life I do not have.
This is not even close to an exhaustive list but you can check out this site and find other foods you may find tolerable.
Exercising with Hormonal ADHD
I read somewhere once that willpower is like a muscle, it gets stronger the more you use it. This neurotypical nonsense messed up my head for so long. I always thought if I could just stop being so weak and push through, the next time it would be easier. In reality, I had already been forcing my willpower for too long which had left me drained. Much of the exercise advice you see emphasizes consistency. Maybe it’s just my autistic habit of taking things too literally but for a long time, I thought this meant sticking to a workout routine so you could build up reps and strength over time. Now I realize how ridiculous that is for most women, let alone those of us with the neuro-naughties.
I started spending time learning about energy and strength fluctuations throughout the menstrual cycle. What I learned really shifted how I saw workout consistency. I wish I had known these things when I was still playing volleyball or lifting weights but it’s still useful knowledge for how I see and plan exercise. Now I have more realistic expectations of myself. More realistic expectations means I’m mad at myself less often when I inevitably don’t have flawless follow-through. That being said, looking at the big picture, I’m active on a more consistent and regular basis. I guess that means it’s been worth the semi-half-assed effort.
In-Depth Information About Exercise and Hormones
If you read through this post and hoped you’d get an ADHD-friendly workout plan or more in-depth information about how to structure exercise around your hormones, I’m sorry but I’ve failed you. It was an intentional failing though. While my decades as a competitive athlete give me a decent background in training, I am still far from qualified. I also have to give credit where credit is due and give a big shoutout to Courtney Babilya.
Sometime last year, the algorithm brought me a wonderful Instagram account, courtneykeepingbalance, and it’s been life-changing. Courtney is a women’s fitness nurse with degrees in Community Health and Nutrition. I had started recognizing patterns with my hormones and ADHD and doing a bit of my own research. But when I found Courtney’s account, she helped me connect so many dots that had simply been floating around in my head until then. If you’re looking for ways to work with your hormones instead of against them, you have to go follow her and check out her blog or podcast! Without being overwhelming, she provides so much information that is easy to understand and offers so much insight. She offers workout plans and guidance that can help you build a fitness program with a healthy, balanced approach that brings you results that benefit both your body and brain.
I highly recommend checking out the information and fitness advice she has to offer by following her on Instagram, listening to her podcast, or checking out her website: courtneykeepingbalance.com
Managing Life With ADHD
Here is [yet another] graph I made to show some of the ways hormones can affect ADHD, sleep cycles, work productivity, and other areas of your existence.
Knowing when to expect these shifts and how to use them to your advantage can help you feel more in control of your ADHD. Instead of working against yourself and fighting your ADHD, look for adjustments you can make to cater to your vacillating strengths and weaknesses.
Now that you’ve seen some reason to the chaos, what are some adjustments you can make to your life to work better with your ADHD? What else do you want to know about hormones and ADHD? Tell me in the comments!
Bala, K. A., Doğan, M., Kaba, S., Mutluer, T., Aslan, O., & Doğan, S. Z. (2016). Hormone disorder and vitamin deficiency in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism, 29(9). https://doi.org/10.1515/jpem-2015-0473
Brighten, Dr. J. (2022, January 28). ADHD and Hormones. Dr. Jolene Brighten. https://drbrighten.com/adhd-hormones/
Haimov-Kochman, R., & Berger, I. (2014). Cognitive functions of regularly cycling women may differ throughout the month, depending on sex hormone status; a possible explanation to conflicting results of studies of ADHD in females. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00191
Ocampo Rebollar, A., Menéndez Balaña, F. J., & Conde Pastor, M. (2017). Comparison of affect changes during the ovulatory phase in women with and without hormonal contraceptives. Heliyon, 3(4), e00282. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2017.e00282
Painter, Dr. O. (2012, April 12). ADHD and Hormones in Men | Relational Psych. Www.relationalpsych.group. https://www.relationalpsych.group/articles/adhd-and-hormones-in-men