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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Harding-Duggan

Hormones, Women and ADHD

Over the past week or so I’ve been researching hormones - particularly the impact of estrogen fluctuations in women with ADHD. What have I learned? That this is an under-researched area of study! Beyond that alarmingly unhelpful insight, however, lies the knowledge that the effect of hormonal fluctuations on a woman's emotional and cognitive functioning can not be ignored. I think it is fair to say that while the reality of heightened emotions and foggy cognition may not be a conclusive scientific fact - it is indeed the experience of many women. This is particularly true for women diagnosed with ADHD. Here is what we know:

  • Estrogen levels rapidly drop at the end of a woman’s monthly cycle. Moreover, estrogen levels begin to vary during peri-menopause and plummet during menopause.

  • Estrogen alters the way in which brain cells communicate with one another, affecting all major neurotransmitter systems including dopaminergic pathways.

  • Dopamine is involved in both focus and motivation - the desire to do something.

  • In ADHD dopamine may already not work as effectively as it does in people who are neurotypical.

So what does this mean? That some women, notably those diagnosed with ADHD may face additional challenges with cognition and/or heightened emotion before their period. I know….this is rocket science! But while this may seem obvious I think it is important to validate this experience. For some women this window of time can be incredibly frustrating and detrimental to mental health. I like to think that knowledge is power. How can you use this knowledge - that estrogen levels drop ultimately effecting your focus and motivation - to your advantage? Plan accordingly if possible? Cut yourself some slack? Reframe? Double down on the things that help you feel good such as sleep and exercise?

This is just one of the topics we will explore in the Women’s Healthy Foundations group starting in January. If you are interested in connecting with other women diagnosed with ADHD or who experience ADHD like symptoms and want to learn more please reach out! You can find more details on my Women's Group page.

Sources: Huberman Lab: ADHD and Improving Focus Dr. Sarah McKay: The Women's Brain Book

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