Production of the medications used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has skyrocketed since 1990. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that ADHD diagnoses in children increased by about 42 percent between 2003 and 2011.
If you’re not comfortable with treating this disorder with drugs, there are other, more natural options.
ADHD drugs can help improve symptoms by enhancing and balancing neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry signals between neurons in your brain and body.
However, they can also cause some serious potential side effects. Side effects include:
- sleep problems
- mood swings
- loss of appetite
- heart problems
- suicidal thoughts or actions
Not many studies have looked at the long-term effects of these medications. But some research has been done, and it raises red flags. A study published in 2010 found no significant improvement in behavior and attention problems in children who took medications for their ADHD between the ages of 5 and 14. Their self-perception and social functioning didn’t improve either.
Instead, the medicated group tended to have higher levels of diastolic blood pressure. They also had slightly lower self-esteem than the non-medicated group and performed below age level. The authors of the study emphasized that the sample size and statistical differences were too small to draw causative conclusions.
Alternative treatments may help manage some symptoms associated with ADHD, including:
- difficulty paying attention
- organizational problems
- frequently interrupting
The Mayo Clinic notes that certain food colorings and preservatives may increase hyperactive behavior in some children. Avoid foods with these colorings and preservatives:
- sodium benzoate
- FD&C Yellow No. 6 (sunset yellow)
- D&C Yellow No. 10 (quinoline yellow)
- FD&C Yellow No. 5 (tartrazine)
- FD&C Red No. 40 (allura red)
Diets that restrict possible allergens may help improve behavior in some children with ADHD.
It’s best to check with an allergy doctor if you suspect your child has allergies. But you can experiment by avoiding these foods:
- chemical additives/preservatives like BHT and BHA
- milk and eggs
- foods containing “salicylates” like berries, chili powder, apples and cider, grapes, oranges, peaches, plums, prunes, and tomatoes
Electroencephalographic (EEG) biofeedback is a type of neurotherapy that measures brain waves. A 2011 study suggested that EEG training was a promising treatment for ADHD.
A child may play a special video game during a typical session. They’ll be given a task to concentrate on, such as “keep the plane flying.” The plane will start to dive or the screen will go dark if they’re distracted. The game teaches the child new focusing techniques over time. Eventually, the child will begin to identify and correct their symptoms.
Massage is relaxing. But it may be more than that for those with ADHD. A 2003 study published in the journal Adolescence examined the effects of massage on mood and behavior. Students with ADHD who received massage therapy for 20 minutes twice a week over the course of a month experienced improved mood in the short term and improved classroom behavior in the longer term.
Some small studies indicate that yoga may be helpful for people with ADHD. Research published in 2013 reported significant improvements in hyperactivity, anxiety, and social problems in boys with ADHD who practiced yoga regularly.
Some early studies suggest that tai chi also may help improve ADHD symptoms. Researchers found that teenagers with ADHD who practiced tai chi weren’t as anxious or hyperactive. They also daydreamed less and displayed fewer inappropriate emotions when they participated in tai chi classes twice a week for five weeks.
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Treatment with supplements may help improve symptoms of ADHD. These supplements include:
- vitamin B6
However, results have been mixed. Herbs like ginkgo, ginseng, and passionflower also may help calm hyperactivity.
Supplementing without a doctor’s oversight can be dangerous — particularly in children. Talk to your doctor if you’re interested in trying these alternative therapies. They can order a blood test to measure current levels of a nutrient in your body before you start taking supplements.