The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) states that prescriptions for methylphenidate (Ritalin) have increased by 500 percent since 1990. Many attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) patients benefit from the medication. Others, however, struggle with side effects like dizziness, difficulty sleeping, and digestive issues. Some fail to find adequate relief.
Treatment choices are difficult when facing a diagnosis of ADHD. Are there other options?
There are alternative treatments for ADHD. However, there is little scientific evidence showing their effectiveness. Special diets advocate eliminating sugary foods, artificial food colorings, and additives, while adding more sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Yoga and meditation may be helpful, as well as neurofeedback training.
What about herbal supplements? Might they help improve symptoms?
A 1998 study found that children with ADHD had more problems falling asleep, sleeping soundly, and getting going in the morning. Researchers suggested adjunct therapies might be beneficial.
Herbal teas that contain chamomile, spearmint, lemon grass, and other herbs and flowers are generally considered to be safe options for children and adults who want to relax. They are often recommended as a way to encourage rest and sleep. These teas may be best used before bedtime.
Ginkgo biloba has long been recommended for improving memory and increasing mental sharpness. Studies on the use of ginkgo in ADHD are mixed.
A 2001 study, for instance, found that participants with ADHD taking a combination herbal product with ginkgo experienced improvements. After four weeks, 44 percent of participants improved in social behavior and 74 percent improved in hyperactivity.
Another study from 2010 found slightly different results. Participants took either a dose of ginkgo or methylphenidate (Ritalin) for six weeks. Both groups experienced improvements, but Ritalin was more effective. Still, this study also showed potential benefits from ginkgo.
Brahmi, also known as water hyssop, is a marsh plant that grows wild in India. The herb, made from the leaves and stems of the plant, has long been used for improving mental function and memory. Studies on humans are mixed, but some have been positive. Today, the herb is often recommended as an alternative treatment for ADHD.
A 2002 study found that adults taking brahmi showed improvements in their ability to retain new information. A 2008 study also found benefits. Participants taking a brahmi extract showed significantly improved performance in working memory and visual information processing.
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) grows naturally in Asia, South Africa, and the South Pacific. It’s high in nutrients that are needed for healthy brain function, including vitamin B1, B2, and B6.
Gotu kola may benefit those with ADHD. It helps enhance mental clarity and reduce anxiety levels. A 2002 study showed that gotu kola helped reduce anxiety in participants. A 1992 study found that the herb might be a brain booster.
Simply put, green oats are unripe oats. The product, also known as “wild oat extract,” comes from the crop before it matures. Green oats are sold under the name Avena sativa. They have long been thought to help calm nerves and treat stress and anxiety.
Early studies show that green oat extract may boost attention and concentration. A 2011 studyfound that people taking the extract made fewer errors on a test measuring the ability to remain on task. A second 2011 study also found that people taking Avena sativa showed improvement in cognitive performance.
Ginseng, an herbal remedy from China, has a reputation for stimulating brain function and increasing energy. The “red ginseng” variety also has some potential to calm symptoms of ADHD.
A 2011 study looked at 18 participants between six and 14 years old who were diagnosed with ADHD. Researchers gave 1,000 mg to each one for eight weeks. They reported improvements in anxiety, personality, and social functioning.
Pycnogenol is a plant extract from the bark of the French maritime pine tree. In a 2006 study, researchers gave 61 children with ADHD either 1 mg of pycnogenol or a placebo once a day for four weeks. Results showed that the pycnogenol reduced hyperactivity and improved attention and concentration. The placebo showed no benefits.
A second 2006 study found that the extract helped normalize antioxidant levels in children with ADHD. Another study published in 2007 showed that pycnogenol lowered stress hormones by 26.2 percent. It also decreased neurostimulant dopamine by nearly 11 percent in people with ADHD.
Some studies have indicated that combining some of these herbs may produce better results than using one alone. A small study in Canada studied children with ADHD who took both American ginseng and Ginkgo biloba twice a day for four weeks. The participants experienced improvements in social problems, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
There are not many completed studies of the efficacy of herbal ADHD remedies. Your best bet may be to check with your doctor, an herbal specialist, or naturopath for more information.