AD/HD Natural Remedies
Concern about the long-term effects of taking psychostimulant drugs is fueling interest in alternative natural treatments, such as herbal medicines and nutritional supplements, for people with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD).
The raw materials for the synthesis of brain chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) are nutrients, such as amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Deficiencies in these essential nutrient building blocks cause problems with neurotransmitters and hormones that are involved in regulating attention, impulsiveness and hyperactivity.
Not all people with AD/HD respond to natural remedies, but since they have few or no side effects, they may be a first-line treatment solution.
Before taking herbal medicines or dietary supplements, you might want to first try eliminating certain foods; for example., sugary breakfast cereals, soft drinks, cookies, and chocolate. Also eliminate artificial food coloring and preservatives.
Some natural remedies can be taken in conjunction with psychostimulants or other AD/HD medications, or can, in some cases, even replace them, especially for those with mild to moderate AD/HD. While herbal medicines tend to have extremely low risk of side effects, they should be thought of as medicine, which means there is always some risk of an adverse reaction with your particular body chemistry. Before taking natural medicines, it’s a good idea to consult with a naturopath or mental health professional, especially if you’re currently on other medication.
Herbal medicines and dietary supplements that hold promise for treating AD/HD include: magnesium, gingko biloba, omega-3 fatty acids, ginseng, skullcap, chamomile and gotu kola.
Magnesium has a calming effect on the nervous system. Low levels of magnesium in the bloodstream have been shown to be partially responsible for symptoms such as anxiety, hyper-emotionality, fatigue, headaches, insomnia, light-headedness, dizziness and nervous tension. Daily magnesium supplementation has been found to be effective for treating children with AD/HD who have a magnesium deficiency. Several studies found that after six months of supplementation increased magnesium levels and the children exhibited a significant decline in AD/HD symptoms, including hyperactivity.
Many studies have found that children with AD/HD have significantly lower red blood cell magnesium levels, a deficit that magnesium supplementation plus vitamin B6 can help correct. The combination of magnesium and vitamin B6 can improve attention and reduce hyperactivity and hyperemotivity or aggressiveness.
Gingko biloba is beneficial for the circulatory and nervous systems. Gingko biloba may help focus the mind, improve selective attention, optimize overall cognitive functioning and promote overall neuropsychological improvement in people with AD/HD, as well as elderly people experiencing gradual mental degeneration, especially those suffering from Alzheimer’s/multi-infarct dementia, and cerebral insufficiency, a syndrome characterized by impaired concentration, confusion, decreased physical performance, fatigue, headache, dizziness, depression, and anxiety, thought to be secondary to atherosclerotic disease (Kaschel, R., 2009). Gingko is also used to mitigate premenstrual syndrome (PMS), age-related eye disorders (Lesk, M., et al, 2008), and chemotherapy-induced end-organ vascular damage.
Gingko is considered safe for long-term usage, though some people experience do minor side effects, such as headaches. Gingko is sometimes used in combination with ginseng.
Ginseng, in combination therapy, has been shown to reduce hyperactive-impulsivity symptoms, improve social functioning and overall mental health in people who have AD/HD. Ginseng may help improve such cognitive functions as arithmetic, memory quality, response time, accuracy and overall memory functions. Ginseng is also known to reduce anxious behaviors and impulsiveness. There is some evidence to suggest that Asian ginseng may overstimulate young children.
Low levels of the mineral zinc, which is involved in synthesizing the neurotransmitter dopamine, have been linked to inattention. Zinc nutrition studies have suggested that zinc may be a safe, inexpensive substitute for (or adjunct to) treatment for some AD/HD patients. Zinc has been shown to augment the effects of methylphenidate medication (a psychostimulant drug such as Ritalin). Clinical trials of both zinc monotherapy (zinc only) and zinc in combination with psychostimulants have reported significant benefit, especially for individuals who have zinc deficiencies.
Iron, which is essential for making dopamine, may improve attention in AD/HD sufferers who have an iron deficiency. A few small studies have suggest that around 84 percent of AD/HD children have low ferritin (stored iron) levels. Low iron levels have been linked to cognitive deficits and severe AD/HD.
Omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency and has been associated with symptoms of AD/HD, and metabolic differences in the handling of fatty acids has been associated with adolescents with AD/HD. Dietary supplementation of omega -3 fatty acids is a safe treatment for hyperactivity. University of Oxford research conducted over a 3-month period showed that omega-3 fatty acids supplementation provided significant improvements in reading, spelling, and behavior in children with AD/HD. Australian research found that polyunsaturated fatty acids offer medium to strong positive treatment effects for AD/HD.
Gotu Kola may be effective in treating childhood forms of AD/HD. While this remedy has long been shown to be effective for anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease and other nervous system conditions, some studies suggest that twelve weeks of daily Gotu Kola supplementation significantly improves learning, concentration and attention spans in people with learning disorders. Gotu Kola has no known side effects other than rare allergic reactions.
Skullcap has been found to soothe nervous tension, improve sleep quality, and help people with AD/HD control their thoughts and focus on tasks requiring full attention. Skullcap has also been used for anxiety relief. Skullcap is widely considered to be a safe natural supplement for AD/HD, with few, if any, side effects.
Chamomile promotes relaxation, improves attention, and provides people who have AD/HD with an overall sense of calmness. Chamomile is one of the safest natural supplements available, and has no side effects, other than rare allergic reactions.
Picamilon (also known as nicotinoyl-GABA) is a derivative of the calming neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) formed by combining B-vitamin niacin and the chemical GABA. Picamilon, which can cross the blood-brain barrier, improves blood flow to the brain and has mild anxiolytic or anti-anxiety effects (Shephard, R., 1987). For some adults and children with AD/HD, picamilon supplementation has been found to improve alertness and attention and reduce aggressive behavior.
Over-the counter potassium supplements have been shown to be effective in treating hypokalemic sensory overstimulation, a form of AD/HD that is characterized by a feeling of sensory overstimulation. Some studies have found that sensory overstimulation vanishes suddenly upon taking potassium supplements.
Rhodiola Rosea may improve cognitive functions such as alertness, memory attention, and accuracy for people with AD/HD. It appears to be safest and most useful for adolescents, teens and college-age students who must spend long hours studying. Rhodiola rosea is also known to increase the body’s resistance to stress, trauma, anxiety and fatigue. Regular supplementation may help regulate serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and GABA, which would help reduce anxiety, mental fatigue and low mood. Rhodiola rosea is highly adaptogenic — it helps balance the body by either stimulating or relaxing it, particularly in times of stress. It helps prevent imbalances that can result from stress, thus preventing or mitigating health problems.
It’s generally considered to be too stimulating for young children, and is only occasionally beneficial for children ages 8 to 12.
Other potential natural treatments.
Medical cannabis and mild stimulants such as caffeine, theobromine and nicotine have been shown to reduce AD/HD symptoms in some children, though there is, of course, controversy and concern about the possible long-term effects of taking these substances.
Kaschel, R.. Ginkgo biloba: specificity of neuropsychological improvement–a selective review in search of differential effects. Human Psychopharmacology. 2009 Jul;24(5):345-70.
Shephard, R.A.. “Behavioral effects of GABA agonists in relation to anxiety and benzodiazepine action”. June 1987. Life Sci. 40 (25): 2429–36.
Lesk, MR, Wajszilber, M, Deschenes, MC.. The effects of systemic medications on ocular blood flow. Can J Ophthalmol. 2008 Jun;43(3):351-5.