Alternative Treatments, Herbs, & Supplements for ADHD

Written by Valencia Higuera | Published on December 1, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on December 1, 2014

Herbs and Supplements for ADHD

If your child suffers from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you understand how this condition disrupts life. ADHD is a childhood disorder that can continue into the teenage and adult years. People with ADHD may have trouble focusing or concentrating at school or work. And sometimes, they have trouble controlling their behavior and emotions. Symptoms vary from person to person, but may include any of the following:

  • easily bored
  • easily distracted and unable to finish work or homework assignments
  • constant daydreaming
  • unable to follow direction
  • constant chattering
  • impatient
  • constantly fidgeting or squirming

Approximately 11 percent of children between the ages of four and 17 were diagnosed with ADHD in the United States in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The percentage of children with ADHD continues to increase each year.

Alternative treatments are purported to help adults and children with this condition. Doctors usually prescribe medications to control symptoms and improve brain function, such as stimulants or antidepressants. Some doctors also suggest behavioral therapy and counseling if necessary.

But like many types of drugs, medications used to treat ADHD can trigger a variety of unpleasant side effects. Common side effects may include:

  • nausea
  • increased anxiety
  • headaches
  • tics
  • fatigue
  • dizziness

And after weeks or months of coping with symptoms, you may seek alternatives.

Supplements for ADHD

Although medications are commonly used in the treatment for ADHD, supplements may also ease symptoms.

Zinc

Some studies suggest that children who have ADHD also have lower blood levels of zinc. This essential mineral is found in many foods, and it’s known for its immune boosting properties. Zinc plays a role in neurotransmitter function and supports brain health, and Zinc supplements may improve symptoms in children with ADHD.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3/DHA fatty acids are essential and necessary for human health. They can improve symptoms of various conditions like depression and arthritis, plus improve thinking and behavior in people with ADHD. Some people don't receive enough of essential fatty acids through diet alone, and need supplements.

People with ADHD typically have lower levels of DHA when compared to those without the condition. This essential acid is fundamental for optimum brain health at any age. An Omega-3 supplement may improve brain cell function, thus reducing symptoms of ADHD.

Iron

An iron deficiency causes a variety of symptoms including:

  • weakness
  • rapid heartbeat
  • headaches
  • ringing in the ear
  • pale skin

Deficiencies are also linked to irritability, cognitive impairment, and learning disabilities.

Researchers conducted a study to determine the brain iron levels in 22 children and adults with ADHD. From this group, 12 had never taken medication for the condition. The study also included a control group of 27 healthy children and adults. Based on the findings, the control group and the 10 ADHD participants who took medication had higher brain iron levels than the 12 participants who never took medication.

Some researchers believe there’s a connection between ADHD symptoms and low iron levels, and many believe iron supplements may improve symptoms in adults and children.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an important mineral that regulates over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. This mineral plays a vital role in how the human body functions. A magnesium deficiency can trigger irritability, short attention spans, and mental confusion. Ironically, these are some of the same symptoms of ADHD. Some doctors suspect a connection between ADHD and a magnesium deficiency. More studies are needed, but there’s no harm in speaking with your doctor about possible supplementation.

Herbs for ADHD

In addition to medications and supplements, some people with ADHD have had positive results with herbs. According to the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, herbal medicines have been used for years to calm the mind and relax the nervous system. Herbs shown to reduce irritability, stress, and nervousness include the following:

Ginkgo Biloba

This herb can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and it may also improve memory, focus, and cognitive fuzziness in people with ADHD. But according to the Mayo Clinic, more research on ginkgo is needed.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm has a calming effect. It helps reduce a variety of emotional and physical symptoms like:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • nervousness
  • irritability
  • pain
  • depression

The herb promotes relaxation and may ease insomnia in people with ADHD.

Ginseng

Ginseng is listed among herbs that may improve concentration, memory, and reduce irritability and nervousness. It can be taken as a pill or drank as tea in children or adults with ADHD. Findings from a study using red ginseng shows the herbs effectiveness with reducing hyperactive behavior and helping ADHD children and adults perform better at work or school.

Gotu Kola

Gotu Kola includes many of the nutrients the human body needs, including B vitamins. This herb promotes healthy brain function and eases many symptoms associated with ADHD like:

  • poor memory
  • short-attention spans
  • depression
  • anxiety

Conclusion

Medicines are proven effective for managing symptoms of ADHD. Even though supplements and herbs may improve symptoms, these alternative therapies may not work for everyone. Since herbs can possibly interact with other medications, it’s important that you speak with your doctor before starting any supplemental or herbal regimen. 

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