Strengthen the Cerebellum to Improve ADHD Symptoms

Strengthen the Cerebellum to Improve ADHD Symptoms

Dr. John Ratey joins Ned to share the latest research on how underdeveloped cerebellums affect executive functions like regulating emotions and staying focused. They discuss Dr. Jeremy Schmahmann’s Dysmetria of Thought theory, and share specific ways those with ADHD can build up this part of their brain.

Learn more about Dr. John Ratey HERE.

October is ADHD Awareness Month and we want to hear your ideas for the show! Write an email or record a voice memo with your thoughts and send it to [email protected].

Thanks to our sponsor, OmegaBrite Wellness! Distraction listeners, you can SAVE 20% on your first order with the promo code: Podcast2020 at OmegaBriteWellness.com.

Click HERE to learn more about our sponsor, Landmark College, in Putney, Vermont. It’s the college of choice for students who learn differently.

Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. Our producer is Sarah Guertin and our recording engineer/editor is Scott Persson.

Check out this episode!

A transcript of this episode is below.


Dr. Ned Hallowell:
This episode of Distraction is sponsored by Omegabrite CBD formulated by Omegabrite Wellness, creators of the number one omega-3 supplements for the past 20 years. Shop online at omegabritewellness.com. That’s B-R-I-T-E, Omegabritewellness.com. And by Landmark College, offering comprehensive support for students with ADHD and other learning differences. It is the college of choice for students who learn differently. And I have an honorary degree from that college. Learn more at lcdistraction.org.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Well Schmahmann then said there can be something that he called dysmetria of thought and dysmetria of emotion. And this is where ADD comes into play because all of us with ADD have the common experience of having a thought not end up where we wanted it to. We have a thought and the next thing we’re thinking about how to fry an egg and the next thing we’re talking about how to change a tire on an automobile. That’s past pointing with a thought. A thought goes out, heading in one trajectory, and then it ends up in an entirely different place.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Hello. This is Dr. Ned Hallowell and welcome to another episode of Distraction. Today I am lucky again to have my dear friend and brilliant mentor and all around wonderful human beings Dr. John Ratey, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. 2016, being named the outstanding psychiatrist of the year for advancing the field by the Massachusetts Psychiatric Society, an internationally recognized expert on many topics in psychiatry and the brain, not to mention life. He’s truly a master of the field. And always curious and trying to branch out and discover new ideas, new projects, new ways of understanding the amazing apparatus, most amazing phenomenon of all of nature called the brain.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Well, so welcome, John. I know we’ve had you on recently and we’re thrilled to have you back again. Let me say today, we thought we’d open up an entirely new area for most people, which is the cerebellum. And just to give you some background, the cerebellum is a clump of neurons at the base and back of the brain that literally has been thought of as an afterthought throughout psychiatry and medicine for that matter. It’s a small clump of neurons, but it occupies only 10% of brain volume, but most people, including most doctors, don’t realize it has 75% of the neurons of the brain. 75% of the neurons are packed into this clump at the back of the brain called the cerebellum.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
And when I was in medical school and you were John, we were taught it regulated balance and coordination, and that was about it. Well, the picture has changed and it’s a whole new ball game when it comes to the cerebellum. Thanks largely to one man at Harvard Medical School. So let me let you, John, tell us about what we’ve learned about the cerebellum in the past 20 years and why it is so tremendously important now in matters related to cognition, affect, attention, impulse control, and general life balance.

Dr. John Ratey:
Right, right. No, thank you for having me back again. I enjoyed the first time and I’m looking forward to this. So yes, we’ve learned a tremendous amount about that little part of the brain, that beautiful brain or the pretty brain, which is cerebellum because it was when we were in medical school, yes, it was all about balance, coordination, getting ourselves to have seamless movement. Now, what we know about the cerebellum is with all those nerve cells, they’re always working, even when we’re sleeping, even when we’re not doing anything, they’re constantly adjusting, readjusting the balance and the coordination of the body, but also of higher brain functions. And that’s where attention comes in, but that’s where all kinds of brain functions like wording, like memory, like our emotional life, like social involvement and certainly like attention. What we know is that cerebellum is constantly adjusting and keeping our experience seamless. So instead of being jerky and disjointed, it’s seamless and that’s the big push that the cerebellum brings to our brain and to our brain functions. Now we, yes. So Dr. Schmahmann, I’m never quite sure how to pronounce his name.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Let me just spell it for you because it’s a name you ought to know if you’re interested at all in this topic. Jeremy Schmahmann. S-C-H-M-A-H-M-A-N-N. S-C-H-M-A-H-M-A-N-N. Jeremy Schmahmann. And he’s really the guy who with his brain scan studies has put the cerebellum on the map. There’s even a syndrome, Schmahmann syndrome, that results from cerebellar injury, which symptomatically closely resembles ADHD. In any case, so tell us what Schmahmann and others have shown.

Dr. John Ratey:
Well, what he showed and others earlier in the nineties that if the cerebellum is out of whack, if it’s not functioning properly, you will have motor problems. And we’ve known this. The cerebellum is responsible for instance, for helping us pass or fail the sobriety test, to be able to walk tandemly or to finger to nose kind of tests that they might do.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
We’ve always known that. So what’s the new stuff.

Dr. John Ratey:
So the new stuff is that he talked about that as dysmetria. And then he put that in and said, “We have dysmetria of thought as well, of thinking.” And especially of our attention system. The attention system needs this contribution from the cerebellum to achieve it’s wonderful balance and seamless working. And if we don’t have it, many people in the past have talked about their symptoms of ADD that oftentimes their brain are a little disjointed there, their experience is disjointed and-

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
I don’t mean to interrupt but let’s just pause over that because it’s a very sophisticated concept. Dysmetria means, what John was just talking about, when you touch your finger to your nose and then you touch your finger to the doctor’s finger and back and forth. If you can’t do that, that’s called dysmetria. It’s past pointing. You point past the doctor’s finger or you miss your nose when you point it to yourself. Well, Schmahmann then said there can be something called, that he called, dysmetria of thought and dysmetria of emotion. And this is where ADD comes into play because all of us with ADD have the common experience of having a thought not end up where we wanted it to. We have a thought and the next thing we’re thinking about how to fry an egg. And the next thing we’re talking about how to change a tire on an automobile.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
That’s past pointing with a thought. A thought goes out heading in one trajectory, and then it ends up in an entirely different place. Or with emotion. We start to feel an emotion that we think is gentle and tender and loving, and we end up getting angry at somebody. So again, it’s dysmetria of the past pointing, if you will, both of thought and emotion. And Schmahmann said, “Yes, this is cerebellar mediated.” It’s not a problem with cognition or affect in and of itself. It’s related to problems in the cerebellum. Did I get that right, John?

Dr. John Ratey:
Yeah, you sure did. And it is true that, yes. And so he, amongst others, began to say, Hey, the cerebellum is involved even in mood regulation, even in…” And so see cerebellar differences in people who get depressed.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
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Dr. John Ratey:
We early on in 1990, we began to look at the cerebellum as something that was off in autism. The social connection was off and the same thing can happen with ADD, that not having that balance can throw off your relationships with others. And this is why we’ve chosen the focus on it because it’s really very important. And what we see in a lot of kids is that they have discoordination syndrome. They are not very balanced and coordinated, and that plays a part in their attention problems. And so what we’ve done is begin to treat the cerebellum with exercise, with cerebellar training that helps to regulate the cerebellum and by the way, it then helps regulate the attention system.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
This is also big news and really new. And when I first learned about it 20 years ago, I couldn’t believe it, but isn’t it amazing that by doing certain physical exercises that stimulate the cerebellum, you can get marked improvement in the symptoms of ADHD, of dyslexia, as well as mood issues and cognitive problems, memory issues. So by bulking up, like John says, “The brain is a muscle,” by bulking up the cerebellum, by challenging it with exercises that require you to balance and that become progressively difficult. So this is very specific exercise. It’s not just doing any old exercise. Although every exercise usually includes some measure of balance, but these are specifically designed like standing on one leg or standing on one leg with your eyes closed or standing on one leg with your eyes closed while doing arithmetic calculations, so you’re further challenging the brain, you get definite improvement.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
And the fellow that I’ve been working with for years, who’s really perfected this Wynford Dore over in England has a specific program that if you do for 10 minutes, twice a day for three to six months, in his experience, he gets 80% who have marked, significant improvement. And again, you can’t just randomly do balancing exercises. You need to have them… He does a diagnostic assessment, then you need to have them gradually increased in difficulty. And they’ll track you. It’s all done on computer, but they’ll track you and increase the difficulty. Essentially they become your cerebellar trainer. But if you do the exercises faithfully, and that’s the big… Like all these things that involve exercise, you have to do it and do it faithfully, you do get improvement. And would you say John, you’re bulking up the cerebellum, is that too crude a way to put it?

Dr. John Ratey:
Oh yeah, no, you’re what you do is acutely you turn it on, but chronically that is over time, you’re going to build up resources inside your brain. You’re going to change your brain, grow more connections, one cell to another that will help you overcome deficits or differences or strengthen activities that you want to be good at and to have it work better for you. So yes. I mean, one just to the side, we completed a study with 32, very autistic, hospitalized patients and autistic kids always I mean, they always have a hard time with balance and coordination, but by just training their balance, the biggest factor, the biggest effect was an improvement in their attention system. They were able to attent, they were able to be more social etc, but the attention got better. And we see this again and again, and that’s why something like yoga or something like any balance demanding activity will stimulate your cerebellum and over time will change it. And this has an effect on the attention system.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
But if you want to get a really intense effect, I think you do need to, don’t just say, “Oh, any old thing.” Indeed get skiing, skateboarding, all of those things that challenge balance are really good for your cerebellum. But I think the program that Door has developed is, I don’t know of any… Well Brain Balance is another one, but you have to go to them and it’s very time consuming. With Door, you do it at home. Let me just give you a website. If you want to learn more about this program, go to Distraction, the word distraction.zing performance, Z as in zebra, zingperformance.com. So that’s distraction.zingperformance.com. And you’ll see an interview on there with me and Wynford Dore. And you’ll learn about his program. It’s in my opinion, the single best non-medication treatment that we’ve got for ADHD. And as John was pointing out, it helps a lot more than just that.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
We are really happy to welcome Landmark College back as a sponsor. It’s my favorite favorite place in the world as far as the college for kids who learn differently. It is absolutely a pioneer in the field and has set the bar for how to teach at a college level kids who don’t do school easily. And they find the gifts in these kids. It’s all about finding strengths, not about just about remediating problems. They really get it. And they have the added advantage of being in a beautiful town in Vermont, Putney, Vermont. It is an ideal college for students who learn differently. You could not do better. You’ll come out with confidence, direction and a real solid sense of what your special talents are. It is the college of choice for students who learn differently. Go to lcdistraction.org to learn more.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
The cerebellum you could think of as the core of your brain. If you strengthen your core physically, you will help your whole body. Well, if you strengthen your cerebellum, you’ll help your whole brain in ways that you just were not aware of it. Who would have thought that challenging balance will improve your SAT scores or your attention or your mood, and yet it’s the case.

Dr. John Ratey:
Yep. No. And just as you mentioned that, the core, actually core training of all sorts affects the cerebellum.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
[crosstalk 00:18:05] balancing… Exactly. Balancing itself depends upon core.

Dr. John Ratey:
Yes.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
So you’ve got the two working in tandem. And the visual cortex plays a very important role because when you close your eyes, it’s a whole lot harder to just maintain your balance.

Dr. John Ratey:
Yes, it is. It is. And we’d learned that with our friend-

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Simon.

Dr. John Ratey:
Simon, a Russian trainer. I called him my torture [inaudible 00:18:34] because he’d always come up with more harder things to do. And when we got on the Bosu ball, which is an unbalanced thing, and could stand there for 10 seconds, but then he said, “Okay, on one leg.” And we could do that eventually. And then when he said, “Okay, close your eyes,” we fell off. I mean [crosstalk 00:18:58] we couldn’t do it.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Exactly. We wouldn’t rest until we failed. It was… I tell you a funny story about him. I wrote about him in one of my books. And I said he was built like a brick outhouse, using the polite term. And he was reading the book and he didn’t recognize the term. So he showed it to his wife and he said, “What does this mean?” And she said, “Simon, he saying you look like a toilet,” which is anything but. He looks like a fireplug. I mean, the guy was just massive, massive bundle of muscle and a sweetheart, a really sweet man. Simon’s ultimate, what a wonder. I had to stop with him because he moved to Florida, but John and I, we both came under his spell.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Well, this is great. Isn’t it fun to be living in an era where we’re discovering new stuff? I mean with exercise in general, the cerebellum in particular. In upcoming sessions, we’ll talk about another new discovery that John and I are enthusiastic about, the default mode network. And we’ll have to do another session on that. So I think we’ve exhausted the attention span of our audience. And I think we should say goodbye, but gosh, John, it’s so wonderful to have you and how much you have advanced this field by taking us outside the box and finding ways that that all kinds of unconventional interventions can meet with tremendous success.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Well, that’s going to be it for today. For more information about John and his wonderful world of ideas and concepts and work, go to Johnratey.com. That’s J-O-H-N R-A-T-E-Y.com, J-O-H-N-R-A-T-E-Y.com. And please reach out to us with your questions, comments, and show ideas. Write an email or record a voice memo on your phone and send it to [email protected] That’s the word [email protected] You can also follow the distraction podcast on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Give us a like and follow to stay connected with the show. We love hearing from you.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. Our recording engineer and editor is the always dependable Scott Persson and our producer is the equally dependable, brilliant and resourceful Sarah Guertin. This is Dr. Ned Hallowell wishing you all the best of luck. Goodbye for now.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
The episode you just heard was sponsored by Omegabrite CBD formulated by Omegabrite Wellness, creators of the number one omega-3 supplements for the past 20 years. Shop online at Omegabrite wellness.com.

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