Essential oils are oils taken from plants and distilled into a highly concentrated form. These oils may be taken from the leaves, flowers or blossoms, roots, or stems of a plant. They have only started to become popular in the United States but have been used in other countries for thousands of years. Various essential oils are believed to have physical, emotional, and psychological healing properties.
ADHD is attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. As of 2016, according to the CDC, the estimated number of children diagnosed with ADHD is 6.1 million. Those with ADHD exhibit symptoms including:
- inability to concentrate for long periods of time
- inability to control impulsive behavior
- inability to consider the consequences of some actions
- trouble getting along with others
ADHD is most common in children but can also occur in adults.
Important: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the use of essential oils for the treatment of ADHD nor its symptoms, but many alternative medicine practitioners recommend essential oils to treat symptoms.
There hasn’t been enough research done by the medical and scientific community to fully understand how and if essential oils can be used to help those with ADHD. However, many swear by them in their personal experiences. You should talk to your doctor before using any form of essential oils as they may have some drug interactions. You should only use essential oils as directed. Essential oils can have some side effects, especially if used incorrectly.
Essential oils are believed to help ADHD in conjunction with behavioral therapy. Many of the essential oils mentioned for use with ADHD have a calming or relaxing effect. This calming effect may help those with ADHD modify some of their behavioral symptoms. One study has shown that the aroma of some essential oils affects behavior through the endocrine system or the central nervous system. This effect may work by the properties of the oil traveling through the mucous lining of the nose into the bloodstream. However, more studies are needed to understand the effect fully.
Oils can be applied several ways. They can be applied diluted to the skin, such as through a massage, or they can be diffused to become a fragrance (aromatherapy). If you’re putting an essential oil onto your skin, dilute it with a carrier oil such as sweet almond oil or vegetable oil. Do not take essential oils internally. Many are toxic.
Vetiver oil is said to have a calming effect and may even help stimulate circulation.
Cedarwood is believed to improve the oxygenation of brain cells and to have a calming effect.
Lavender has been used for hundreds of years to reduce anxiety. One study has shown that lavender aroma can affect our emotions. The aroma of lavender can reduce anxiety and help calm people in a stressful situation. It’s believed that lavender can have the same effect on ADHD. Lavender may also help to improve your sleep.
In the same study, orange essential oil was also used and showed it could reduce anxiety and create calm in individuals in a stressful environment. It may be able to have the same effect on those with ADHD. Do not go in the sun if you apply any citrus oils to your skin.
Chamomile and ylang-ylang
The stress, anxiety, and depression felt by some with ADHD may be helped by ylang-ylang and chamomile oils. Both of these essential oils may also have the ability to calm, reduce anxiety, and possibly even help with some forms of depression.
Sandalwood oil has been shown in studies to have medicinal properties that help with inflammation and possibly even some cancers. However, some believe it can also help to relax, calm, and improve mental clarity in people with ADHD.
Frankincense may be able to help people with ADHD focus better. It may also help reduce some negative emotions that are common in people with ADHD.
Peppermint oil is believed to have a soothing effect. It can help relax and calm the restlessness many with ADHD feel. People with sensitive skin should dilute this essential oil even more by adding more carrier oil or less essential oil.
ADHD is most common in children. The use of essential oils in children with ADHD needs more research. Children may be more sensitive to essential oils and significant caution must be used. Check with your child's doctor before using essential oils.
Essential oils may be used in bath water, with massage, topically on your skin, and with a diffuser. In treating the symptoms of ADHD, the oil is most commonly diffused into the air and gradually breathed in. You do not have to use a diffuser to get the same result. A few drops placed near, but not on, your nose can have the same effect.
The oil may first need to be mixed with a carrier oil. It’s important to note that essential oils may cause your skin to become painfully irritated if directly applied through massage or in a bath. This irritation may be increased for children, so use topically with caution or avoid using them topically at all on children.
Besides essential oils, you can try other alternative treatments for symptoms of ADHD at home. These are also still being studied to determine their full effectiveness in treating ADHD, but many believe they can help with symptoms. The CDC lists several at-home treatments that can help manage the symptoms of ADHD including:
- healthy diet
- additional sleep
- limiting the use of electronic devices like TV
Other alternative treatments for ADHD may include:
- omega-3 fatty acids – from taking a supplement or eating certain types of fish
- spending time outside
- minerals like zinc, magnesium, or iron (only if you are deficient; otherwise, these supplements can be harmful)
- care from a chiropractor
- avoiding certain food colors and preservatives
As with all treatments, including at-home treatments, you should consult your doctor or your child’s doctor before starting any new treatment.
There has not been enough medical and scientific research performed to determine the effectiveness of essential oils to treat the symptoms ADHD. However, many with ADHD believe they help. Discuss treatment with your doctor before trying essential oils to treat ADHD.