Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can interfere with normal daily activities. In 2016, an estimated 6.1 million American children aged 2-17 years received an ADHD diagnosis. The condition is believed to persist into adulthood in 60% – 70% of people.
If your symptoms are significantly affecting your life, you may be prescribed medications. These balance the neurotransmitters in the brain and reduce symptoms. Common medications for ADHD include Ritalin (methylphenidate), Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine), and Strattera (atomoxetine).
Not everyone wants to take medication for ADHD, and others may look for additional options to supplement traditional ADHD treatments. In this article, natural treatments for ADHD will be explored in detail.
ADHD Medication Side Effects
ADHD medications can help improve symptoms by boosting and balancing neurotransmitters, the chemicals that carry signals between nerve cells in the brain and body. There are several types of medications used to treat ADHD, including:
- Stimulants, such as Ritalin and Adderall, which are used to help you focus and ignore distractions
- Non-stimulants such as Strattera and Wellbutrin (bupropion) tend not to work as quickly or as aggressively as stimulant medications, but they can be used if you have problems with stimulants.
While these medications can improve some symptoms of ADHD, they can also cause potential side effects, including:
- Sleep disorders
- Mood Swings
- rapid heart rate
- high blood pressure
If you experience side effects from medications, talk to your healthcare provider, who may recommend ways to manage these symptoms or another form of treatment.
You may experience side effects from ADHD medications, such as trouble sleeping, mood swings, headaches, and a fast heartbeat. Talk to your healthcare provider about side effects and if there are any other medications you can try.
Study-backed natural treatments for ADHD
If you’re looking for ways to deal with ADHD instead of or in addition to prescription medications, there are some nutritional supplements backed by research that may help. These include:
Caffeine is a stimulant, and many people with ADHD treat themselves with caffeine before they are diagnosed or use it to treat ADHD. Caffeine boosts the activity of the brain chemical dopamine, which can help increase focus and alertness.
However, caffeine can also interact negatively with stimulant medications. Some ADHD patients who take medication find that they can enjoy a small amount of caffeine, while others find that its negative effects outweigh the pleasure.
Ginseng is an herbal remedy that has been used for centuries in Eastern medicine, and has a reputation for stimulating brain function and increasing energy. Korean red ginseng has shown some potential to help calm ADHD symptoms.
In 2011, researchers studied 18 children ages 6 to 14 with ADHD. Each child was given 1,000 mg of ginseng twice daily for eight weeks. The researchers reported improvements in attention, anxiety, and some measures of personality and social functioning. This was a small study, and more research is needed to confirm the results, but it shows the potential for this treatment.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their brain-protective properties, and may also be helpful in reducing ADHD symptoms.
Research has shown that omega-3s affect serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain and protect against harmful oxidative stress. These effects may be useful in managing ADHD symptoms.
Fish oil pills are the easiest way to add concentrated amounts of omega-3s to your diet, but eating fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, and cod two or three times a week can also be beneficial.
Zinc is a mineral that regulates dopamine levels. If you have low levels, this may contribute to attention problems. This mineral, found in meat, legumes (lentils, peas, and beans), seeds, nuts, and other foods, strengthens your immune system and helps your body make proteins to support cell membrane growth.
If you or your child has a zinc deficiency (which may be more likely if you are a vegetarian or vegan), Taking zinc supplements may be helpful in reducing your hyperactivity symptoms.
As with zinc, magnesium supplementation is only beneficial for people who are magnesium deficient.
Low magnesium levels can cause problems similar to ADHD, such as decreased attention span and irritability. A 2017 study of children with ADHD found that more than 70% of them had a magnesium deficiency and benefited from taking a magnesium supplement.
Iron is necessary to make dopamine, Low iron levels have been associated with symptoms of ADHD. Your health care provider can check your iron levels and prescribe a supplement if you need it. It is not recommended to take iron supplements without medical advice.
Lifestyle factors that may help
Certain lifestyle factors, such as changes in diet and exercise, have also been shown to be helpful in managing ADHD symptoms. These include:
Filled with protein: Eating protein with meals may help manage ADHD symptoms. Not only does protein help stabilize blood sugar levels, but protein also plays an important role in the production of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine and norepinephrineIt is an important feature in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
An ADHD-friendly meal includes a balance of protein and fiber from vegetables, unprocessed fruit, or oatmeal.
I exercise regularlyExercise: Exercise can help improve symptoms of ADHD, including executive functioning (skills such as self-control, attention, and managing emotions). There have been many research studies on different types of exercise and how they help treat ADHD. The results show that no type of exercise is better than another.
Instead, it is important to choose an exercise that you enjoy and that you will feel motivated to do regularly. If you tend to get bored, you can include a variety of your favorite exercises.
reduce or avoid gluten (if you are allergic): More research is needed in this area, but one study found that people with celiac disease (gluten intolerance) and ADHD saw significant improvement in ADHD symptoms when sticking to a gluten-free diet.
Control stress and prioritize sleep: Nobody actively looks for stress but if you are not getting enough sleep because life is stressful, it can lead to ADHD. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be the source of your stress, especially if your symptoms lead to missed deadlines and an ever-growing to-do list.
Problems associated with untreated ADHD
Children with untreated ADHD may have problems at home and at school. They may fall behind or get poor grades. Children with ADHD may struggle to control their emotions, which can cause difficulty making friends.
Adults with untreated ADHD are at a much greater risk than the general population of developing serious problems. Research has shown that academic performance, antisocial behavior, addictive behavior, self-esteem, and social functioning are all affected by undiagnosed ADHD.
While prescription medications work for many people with ADHD, other treatments may sometimes be used to help with symptoms.
Changes in the diet to include more protein, exercise, and supplementation with zinc, iron, and magnesium in certain conditions all have scientific support. Excessive stress and lack of sleep can trigger ADHD symptoms, so try to get as much rest as possible.
Word from Verywell
There are plenty of options for managing ADHD with natural remedies, but they are likely to be helpful in combination with conventional medications. Be prepared for some trial and error as you find the right treatment for you or your child.
Talk to your healthcare provider before adding any over-the-counter supplements or treatments to your daily routine, as they may interact with other medications you take.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between ADD and ADHD?
“ADD” is an old term for the form of ADHD now called ADHD inattention. Having ADHD means that the person shows enough symptoms of inattention (or easy distraction) but is not hyperactive or impulsive. People with ADHD/ADHD show a persistent pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.
Why is it difficult to focus when you have ADHD?
Research suggests that people with ADHD have lower levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, which are associated with attention and focus.
What is the most common treatment for ADHD?
ADHD treatment may include medication, therapy, or a combination of both. For children with ADHD who are younger than 6 years old, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends behavior management as the first line of treatment, before trying treatment.