What happened to my brain? ADD vs the usual suspects – Anxiety + Depression

Did you know women over 35 have a quadrupled risk for depression?

That’s what the data says, anyway.

But what if the data aren’t entirely complete?

If you’re a 35+ woman wondering what happened to her brain–because you’re losing the keys, forgetting things, getting easily distracted, and watching piles form around the house–your doctor might diagnose you with depression or anxiety.

As it turns out, many women with these symptoms have actually developed ADD.

Emerging data on the perimenopausal brain shows that women have very different ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) symptoms and challenges than do boys and men. (Only a tiny fraction of females have the hyperactivity component–ADHD–when compared to men.)

I find this emerging data fascinating, but it requires a much more robust approach–one which few healthcare professionals have the information, interest and experience.

Many of my patients with ADD tell me their healthcare professionals insist their problems are only related to anxiety or depression. Mothers tell me their daughters with ADD are often overlooked in the classroom or misunderstood by teachers.

The science behind how ADD develops in women.

What I see in women with ADD is a bad Omega 6 to Omega 3 ration (that is, not enough Omega 3s) and imbalanced neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and PEA (phenylethylamine). Often estrogen is fluctuating wildly. Cortisol, the main stress hormone, has gone wild. No wonder you’re feeling distracted and impulsive.

3 steps you can take to restore clarity.

If you’re wondering what happened to your brain, here are three things you can do to defuzz:

  • Take more Omega 3–fish oil. Start with 2 capsules a day with breakfast. It really can make a difference–even if you don’t have ADD.

  • Measure your level of Omega 3 compared to the more inflammatory Omega 6. The test is called the n-6:n-3 ratio. Hit REPY if you’d like to order this test from me.

  • Get a neuroscience to test to measure your cortisol and neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters identify key patterns that can be fixed with nutrition, amino acid and natural hormone balancing.

If you think you may have ADD/ADHD, contact your doctor to learn more, or hit REPLY to let me know this is on your mind.

When it comes to your health, you are your own best advocate. So if your physician is unfamiliar with how ADD/ADHD shows up in adult women, you can either find someone who is up on the emerging data, or bring the data with you to your next appointment.

Yoga is great for both ADD and doctor’s waiting rooms, by the way, but I’ve got even better natural solutions for you. Most doctors, nutritionists, psychiatrists—they don’t know. They’ll tell you it’s normal. The aging process. Depression. Stress. Hear from me and our community of women the honest truth right here.


  1. Ann MacMillan on October 13, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Dr. Sara:

    How serendipitous that I would find you today, and this is your most recent post! I have chronic depression (diagnosed at 14, I’m now 41) with occasional “major episodes.” (Dislike that term.) My ADD diagnosis came in my early 20’s, when it became known that the disorder did continue into adulthood.

    My major obstacle is my ADD, and the behaviors that have developed around it. Tardiness and difficulty communicating my thoughts & ideas really hamper my everyday life and have limited my success in the traditional work-world. My “underachiever” situation frequently causes small depressive episodes.

    I would be happy to hear ANY suggestions you have regarding nutrition and Adult ADD! I have taken most of the range of medicine indicated for ADD – the stimulants and the SSRIs. It seems that I get the most benefit out of medicines like Strattera and Celexa. Of course, I know some of the best ways to help with ADD symptoms are things like meditation and yoga, and I do practice both.

    Thank you in advance!

    With gratitude,

    Ann MacMillan

  2. Ann MacMillan on October 13, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    Whoops! For some reason, I didn’t realize this was in a “comments” section. Please don’t publish this in your blog.

    Thank you!

  3. Thea on October 15, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    Hi Sara,
    I loved your interview with Susannah Conway!

    I was diagnosed with ADD at age 35. I am very intersted in the neuroscience test. What sort of doctor would be able to perform this test?

    I live in upstate NY.

    Thanks so much,

    • Sara Gottfried MD on October 15, 2011 at 7:34 pm

      Hi Thea,

      The neuroscience test can be done within New York. I order them for my Concierge and Boutique patients, but it requires that you come to me here in Berkeley for your first appointment. Here is a link to find doctors near you https://www.neurorelief.com/

      Thanks for writing and for your kind comments about the interview with Susannah. It was so much fun.

      All the best,
      Dr. Sara