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What Supplements and Herbs Work for ADHD?

Herbs and supplements for ADHD

Fast facts

  1. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can cause challenges in day-to-day tasks.
  2. Some herbs and supplements may help relieve symptoms of ADHD. But they aren’t as effective as traditional treatments.
  3. It’s important to talk to your child’s doctor before trying any new alternative treatments.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a childhood disorder that can continue into adulthood. As of 2011, about 11 percent of children in the United States between 4 and 17 years old have an ADHD diagnosis.

Symptoms of ADHD can be disruptive in certain environments or even during a child’s day-to-day life. They may have difficulty controlling their behavior and emotions at school or in social settings. This can affect their development or how they perform academically. ADHD behaviors include:

  • becoming easily distracted
  • not following directions
  • feeling impatient often
  • fidgety

Your child’s doctor will prescribe medications such as stimulants or antidepressants to treat ADHD symptoms. They might also refer your child to a specialist for counseling. You may be interested in alternative treatments to help relieve ADHD symptoms as well.

Be sure to talk to your doctor before trying a new alternative treatment. They can help you understand the potential benefits and risks of adding it to your child’s treatment plan.

Supplements for ADHD

Some studies suggest that certain nutritional supplements can ease symptoms of ADHD.

Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral that plays a vital role in brain health. A zinc deficiency may have an effect on other nutrients that help the brain function. The Mayo Clinic reports that zinc supplements may benefit symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and social problems. But more studies are needed. A review of zinc and ADHD recommends that zinc supplementation may only be effective in people who have a high risk for zinc deficiency.

Zinc-rich foods include:

  • oysters
  • poultry
  • red meat
  • dairy products
  • beans
  • whole grains
  • fortified cereals

You can also find zinc supplements at your local health food store or online.

Omega-3 fatty acids

If your child isn’t getting enough omega-3 fatty acids from diet alone, they might benefit from a supplement. Researching findings about benefits are mixed. Omega-3 fatty acids can affect how serotonin and dopamine move around in the frontal cortex of your brain. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a type of omega-3 fatty acid that’s essential to good brain health. People with ADHD typically have lower levels of DHA than those without the condition.

Dietary sources of DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish, such as:

  • salmon
  • tuna
  • halibut
  • herring
  • mackerel
  • anchovies

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) says that omega-3 fatty acid supplements may ease symptoms of ADHD. The Mayo Clinic reports that some children take 200 milligrams of flaxseed oil with omega-3 content and 25 milligrams of vitamin C supplements twice a day for three months. But study results are mixed about the effectiveness of flaxseed oil for ADHD.

Iron

Some researchers believe there’s a link between ADHD and low iron levels. A 2012 study shows that iron deficiency may increase risk of mental health disorders in children and young adults. Iron is important for dopamine and norepinephrine production. These neurotransmitters help regulate the brain’s reward system, emotions, and stress.

If your child has low iron levels, supplements might help. The NCCIH states that iron supplements can sometimes relieve symptoms of ADHD in people who are iron deficient. But consuming too much iron can be toxic. Talk to your child’s doctor before introducing iron supplements to their regimen.

Magnesium

Magnesium is another important mineral for brain health. A magnesium deficiency can cause irritability, mental confusion, and shortened attention span. But magnesium supplements may not help if your child doesn’t have a magnesium deficiency. There’s also a lack of studies about how magnesium supplements affect symptoms of ADHD.

Talk to your child’s doctor before adding magnesium supplements to any treatment plan. At high doses, magnesium can be toxic and cause nausea, diarrhea, and cramps. It’s possible to get enough magnesium through your diet. Magnesium-rich foods include:

  • dairy products
  • whole grains
  • beans
  • leafy greens

Melatonin

Sleep problems can be a side effect of ADHD. While melatonin doesn’t improve symptoms of ADHD, it can help regulate sleep, especially in those with chronic insomnia. A study of 105 children with ADHD between the ages of 6 and 12 found that melatonin improved their sleep time. These children took 3 to 6 milligrams of melatonin 30 minutes before bedtime over a four-week period.

Herbs for ADHD

Herbal remedies are a popular treatment for ADHD, but just because they are natural doesn’t mean they are more effective than traditional treatments. Here are some of the herbs often used in ADHD treatment.

Korea ginseng

An observational study looked at the effectiveness of Korean red ginseng in children with ADHD. Results after eight weeks suggest that red ginseng can reduce hyperactive behavior. But more research is needed.

Valerian root and lemon balm

A study of 169 children with symptoms of ADHD took a combination of valerian root extract and lemon balm extract. After seven weeks, their lack of concentration decreased from 75 to 14 percent, hyperactivity decreased from 61 to 13 percent, and impulsiveness decreased from 59 to 22 percent. Social behavior, sleep, and symptom burden also improved. You can find valerian root and lemon balm extract online.

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba has mixed results on effectiveness for ADHD. It’s less effective than traditional treatments, but it’s unclear if it’s more effective than placebo. According to the NCCIH, there’s insufficient evidence to recommend this herb for ADHD. Ginkgo biloba also increases your risk for bleeding, so talk to a doctor before trying it.

St. John’s wort

Many people use this herb for ADHD, but there is no evidence that it’s better than placebo.

Read more: Herbal remedies for ADHD »

Talk to your doctor

Talk to your doctor before trying any new supplement or herbal remedy. What works for some people may not benefit you the same way. Some nutritional supplements and herbal remedies interact with other medications you or your child may already be taking.

In addition to supplements and herbs, dietary changes may improve symptoms of ADHD. Try removing hyperactivity trigger foods from your child's diet. These include foods with artificial colors and additives, such as sodas, fruit drinks, and brightly colored cereals.

Keep reading: The ADHD diet: What works »

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