The primary drug treatments for ADHD are psychostimulants (such as methylphenidate, a.k.a. Ritalin), which have helped many children and adults. They get slammed by some alternative- medicine folks, but the costs of not treating ADHD—increased unemployment, greater drug addiction, poor academic performance, crime, and marital problems—are too great to not try everything possible.
Conventional medicines have serious side effects— including the potential for abuse; increased blood pressure and heart rate; decreased appetite, weight, and growth rate; and insomnia—but their ability to increase cognitive function and attentiveness and decrease distractibility, hyperactivity, and behavioral issues is remarkable.
Many respected associations, like the British Association for Psychopharmacology, suggest some ADHD patients should speak with their doctors about taking periodic “drug holidays” to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment or if there are concerns over side effects. Most supplement studies for ADHD have been poorly done, but there are a few good options that have a low risk-to-benefit ratio.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active.
Home Remedies For ADHD
Daily multivitamin with iron
Prescription stimulants, the conventional treatment option for ADHD, can cause appetite loss and potential nutrient deficiencies, which a multivitamin can help counteract. In fact, your doctor should test for standard nutrient deficiencies if you are taking these drugs. Research from the University of Iowa Medical Center and others suggests that supplementing low iron levels (either with a multivitamin or separate supplement) can increase the response to conventional ADHD medicines.
Omega-3 fatty acids
In more than a dozen clinical trials, these have shown slight to modest reductions in ADHD symptoms, such as hyperactivity/inattention, and suggestions of improvement in literacy/writing. Preliminary research indicates that these benefits could be even stronger when combined with omega-6 supplements. Taking 500 to 1,000 milligrams per day (of mostly omega-3s with 50 to 100 milligrams of that coming from gamma-linolenic acid, or GLA, an omega- 6) is a good place to start. (For kids, liquid, flavored options might be more palatable than popping a lot of pills.)
Melatonin or L-theanine
Studies have shown that 3 milligrams of melatonin before bed or 100 to 200 milligrams of L-theanine at breakfast and again after school improves sleep in boys ages 8 to 12, but lower doses could also potentially work. The rationale is that better sleep could reduce ADHD symptoms the following day. Be warned: Melatonin can potentially increase the risk of convulsions in some children with epilepsy.
Dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE, Deanol, or dimethylethanolamine)
This compound may work by normalizing neurotransmitter (brain chemicals) function. One well-done, older clinical trial of DMAE (500 milligrams) compared with the drug methylphenidate (40 milligrams) or a placebo found that both interventions were more effective than just a placebo with no adverse effects.
DMAE is less effective than stimulant drugs but could be an option for those who can’t tolerate or refuse medication and have mild symptoms. The biggest problem with this product is that the research on it has been weak over the last decade, and it hasn’t done well in trials for other conditions, such as Alzheimer’s. Nobody really has a good handle on side effects, but headache, insomnia, increased blood pressure, schizophrenia symptoms, and unwanted movements of the face and mouth have been reported.
This extract from the bark of the French maritime pine improved attention and visual-motor coordination and reduced hyperactivity in one study (1 milligram per kilogram of body weight per day). When the participants discontinued the supplement, there was a greater chance of relapse.
Bacopa monnieri (Brahmi or bacopa)
Taking 50 milligrams twice daily for 12 weeks might improve memory, learning tasks, and attention. (See the Memory Loss section and the Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia, and Mild Cognitive Impairment section for more information on this supplement.)
A variant of this vitamin, a drug known as metadoxine, has shown some ability to treat inattentive symptoms in adults with ADHD, so
many experts theorize that vitamin B6 would also be useful. A clinical trial
to test this is needed, though. Be aware that nausea, fatigue, and diarrhea can occur with metadoxine.
What Supplement is Useless For ADHD?
In one study, 500 to 1,500 milligrams per day (based on weight) of this amino acid along with conventional medicine worked no better than a placebo for ADHD.
What Should You Avoid For Treating ADHD?
New research suggests synthetic food dyes might make symptoms worse, but the best way to test this is by trying an elimination diet to determine sensitivity. For a few weeks, try to eat only whole foods and additive-free products (stay away from processed food) to see if symptoms change at all. Keep in mind that juice, dietary supplements, and gum can all contain artificial coloring.