As many as 11 percent of children and adolescents aged 4 to 17 had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as of 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treatment choices are difficult when facing an ADHD diagnosis. Increasing numbers of people with ADHD are being prescribed and benefitting from methylphenidate (Ritalin). Others struggle with side effects from the medication. These include dizziness, decreased appetite, difficulty sleeping, and digestive issues. Some don’t get relief from Ritalin at all.
There are alternative treatments for ADHD, but there is limited scientific evidence proving their effectiveness. Special diets say you should eliminate sugary foods, artificial food colorings, and additives, and eat more sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Yoga and meditation may be helpful. Neurofeedback training is yet another option. All of these things can work together to make some difference in ADHD symptoms.
What about herbal supplements? Read more to learn if they could help improve symptoms.
A recent study found that children with ADHD had more problems falling asleep, sleeping soundly, and getting up in the morning. Researchers suggested that additional treatments might be helpful.
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’re often recommended as a way to encourage rest and sleep. Having a night time ritual at bedtime (for adults too) helps your body better prepare for sleep. These teas may be best used before bedtime.
Ginkgo biloba has long been recommended for improving memory and increasing mental sharpness. Study results on the use of ginkgo in ADHD are mixed.
One study, for example, found that symptoms improved for people with ADHD who took a ginkgo extract. Children who took 240 mg of Ginkgo biloba extract daily for three to five weeks showed a reduction in ADHD symptoms with few negative side effects.
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. Ginkgo Biloba interacts with many medications such as blood thinners and would not be a choice for those bowel diseases.
Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) is also known as water hyssop. It’s a marsh plant that grows wild in India. The herb is made from the leaves and stems of the plant. It has been used for centuries to improve brain function and memory. Studies on humans are mixed, but some have been positive. The herb is often recommended as an alternative treatment for ADHD today. Research is increasing because of earlier studies.
A 2013 study found that adults taking brahmi showed improvements in their ability to retain new information. Another study also found benefits. Participants taking a brahmi extract showed significantly improved performance in their memory and brain function.
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. These include vitamin B1, B2, and B6.
Gotu kola may benefit those with ADHD. It helps enhance mental clarity and reduce anxiety levels. A 2000 study showed that gotu kola helped reduce anxiety in participants.
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 study found that people taking the extract made fewer errors on a test measuring the ability to remain on task. Another 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 children between 6 and 14 years old who were diagnosed with ADHD. Researchers gave 1,000 mg of ginseng 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. Researchers gave 61 children with ADHD either 1 mg of pycnogenol or a placebo once a day for four weeks in a 2006 study. Results showed that the pycnogenol reduced hyperactivity and improved attention and concentration. The placebo showed no benefits.
Another study found that the extract helped normalize antioxidant levels in children with ADHD. One study published in 2007 showed that pycnogenol lowered stress hormones by 26 percent. It also decreased the amount of the 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. A 2011 review of complementary treatments for ADHD found that pine bark and a Chinese herbal blend may be effective and brahmi shows promise, but requires further research.
With so many options, your best bet may be to check with your doctor, an herbal specialist, or naturopath for more information. Seek advice on where to buy herbs from companies with good reputations. The FDA does not regulate or monitor the use of herbs and products have been reported tainted, incorrectly labeled, and unsafe.