Are there natural remedies for ADHD?
Doctors typically diagnose ADHD in children who demonstrate hyperactive and impulsive behavior and have difficulty focusing.
But ADHD can affect adults, too. Where most people lose focus or act impulsively from time to time, a person with ADHD may have more extreme responses more often than others.
Doctors can prescribe medications for ADHD symptoms, but these drugs can have side effects, and they do not always work.
There are natural remedies that people can try, though these may have side effects also. Half of all children with ADHD are given alternative treatments in some way, according to studies cited in Neural Plasticity.
However, no natural remedies have been shown to be as effective as medication and behavioral therapies, or a combination of both these.
In this article, we look at some complementary therapies and supplements that may help to reduce or manage the symptoms of ADHD. We also look at the science behind them.
There is some evidence that omega-3 supplements might offer some small benefits.
According to studies reviewed in Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, some evidence supports the use of the following supplements:
- Melatonin: This may help reduce insomnia, but there is no evidence that it reduces ADHD symptoms.
- Iron, zinc, and magnesium: These may help if a person has a deficiency in any of these, but more research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of taking supplements.
- Omega-3: Fish oils, for example, may help treat symptoms of ADHD, though the effect appears to be small.
The use of any medication, including supplements, carries some risk. Children, in particular, should not take any supplementary or complementary medicine without their doctor's approval.
Most supplements do not have approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As a result, there is no regulation on the contents, and no official recommended dosage.
People must always check with a doctor whether it is safe to use a supplement or other remedy, and what dosage they should take.
Clinical trials have found that a number of herbal treatments may show promise for treating ADHD. These include:
- French Maritime pine bark extract: This plant-based material may increase visual-motor coordination and reduce hyperactivity and inattentiveness.
- Ginseng: This Chinese herb may alleviate hyperactivity and inattentiveness.
- Ningdong: Another Chinese medicine that may help to reduce some ADHD symptoms.
- Bacopa: This traditional Indian or Ayurvedic treatment derives from a plant also known as Brahmi or water hyssop. Studies have suggested it might reduce restlessness and improve self-control.
More, large-scale research studies are needed to find out whether all these natural supplements and medicines are safe and effective.
Researchers also still need to know, for example, how much a person should take and whether the substances will interact with other medications.
People should check first with a doctor before using any supplements or natural medicines, especially if the treatment is for a child.
Getting exercise and spending time in a green space can be beneficial, and outdoor activities are fun for all the family.
Some lifestyle practices and activities remain unproven but may help people with ADHD, according to a review published in ISRN Psychiatry in 2012.
These may be better than some other methods if a parent or carer is looking to try them on a child, as they carry little risk.
According to the review, some may show the greatest benefits when used alongside established treatments.
Biofeedback or neurofeedback: A professional uses specialist equipment that records brainwave patterns. The results can help a person understand how different activities and reactions affect them. The individual may then be able to adapt their behavior accordingly.
Exercise and relaxation: Yoga, massage, and meditation may help to reduce some symptoms, and regular exercise of any kind can help people cope with stress. Parents and children can do these activities together if they wish.
Connecting with nature: Some studies have suggested that children with ADHD find it easier to concentrate after spending time outdoors in a green space.
There is no evidence available yet about how long a person has to spend in the green space to see improvements, or how long the improvements will last.
Food and diet
People have often suggested a link between sugar consumption and hyperactivity in children. Research in this area is limited, but one study that looked at the effect on primary school children in Korea does not support the theory.
A review published in 2012 concluded that an additive-free diet might help some people, but researchers note that this will only benefit "selected patients," and it can be hard to implement.
The possible link between food additives or processed foods and ADHD remains controversial. A study published in 2018 looked at the dietary habits of nearly 15,000 children in China. The researchers found that:
- Those who followed a"snack" or "processed" food diet habit were more likely to have symptoms of ADHD.
- Those who followed a "vegetarian" diet were less likely to have symptoms.
These diets may have an impact on how often symptoms occur, but, there is no evidence that the diets themselves caused or improved symptoms.
However, eating a healthful, well-balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits, whole grains, and vegetables can benefit everyone, including those children and adults with ADHD.
Learning new skills
Creating systems for regular activities, such as getting ready for school, can help children with ADHD learn how to recognize and feel comfortable with routines.
Examples of systems might include:
- organizing storage for toys and clothes
- learning to use calendars, timetables, lists, and reminders
- having a regular going to bed and waking up time
Lavender and other oils may help relieve some symptoms, but more research is necessary.
Some people believe that essential oils can help relieve or reduce the symptoms of ADHD.
Lavender: A PhD study published by the University of Minnesota in 2014 suggested that lavender can help people sleep. There appears to be little further evidence to support this, although people say that it works.
Vetiver: Findings published in 2016 note that rats were better able to focus after inhaling the essential oil of vetiver. Research is needed to see if the same applies in humans.
Rosemary: In 2012, a study found that people had better scores for speed and accuracy in thinking activities after exposure to the aroma of rosemary oil.
Here, we give some safety tips for those considering the use of essential oils:
- Always speak to a doctor before using any essential oils, especially for children, to make sure the oil and the method of delivery are safe.
- Always dilute an essential oil with a carrier oil. Ask a doctor what the concentration should be for an adult or a child, as these will be different.
- Never apply an essential oil directly to the skin, as it can cause a reaction.
- Never swallow an essential oil, as they can be toxic to the body.
Help for adults with ADHD
Adults looking for further ways to cope with their ADHD may want to try the following:
- seeking guidance or counseling from professionals to help organize and manage their lives better
- combining medication with therapies that focused on trying to change behavior
- talking to friends, family, and colleagues about their condition
Treatment for ADHD usually combines medication and behavioral therapies. Some natural and lifestyle remedies can help, but people with a diagnosis of ADHD should follow their doctor's instructions.
Supplements and natural remedies can affect the body just as prescription or over-the-counter medicines can. These alternative treatments can have side effects and may interact with other drugs.
People should speak to a doctor before trying any new remedies, including supplements, and before stopping any existing medication.