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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can interfere with regular daily activities. In 2016, an estimated 6.1 million U.S. children ages 2–17 years received an ADHD diagnosis. The condition is believed to persist into adulthood for 60%–70% of people.
If symptoms are significantly impacting your life, you may be prescribed medications. These work to 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 wishes to take medication for ADHD, and others may be looking for additional options to supplement traditional treatments for ADHD. In this article, natural remedies for ADHD will be explored in detail.
ADHD Medication Side Effects
ADHD drugs can help improve symptoms by enhancing and balancing neurotransmitters, the chemicals that carry signals between neurons in your 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 to focus and ignore distractions
- Nonstimulants like Strattera and Wellbutrin (bupropion) tend not to work as quickly or as robustly as stimulant medications, but may be used if you have issues with stimulants.
While these drugs can improve some ADHD symptoms, they can also cause potential side effects, including:
- Sleep disturbance
- Mood swings
- Rapid heart rate
- High blood pressure
If you experience side effects from medication, speak to your healthcare provider, who may recommend ways to manage these symptoms or another form of treatment.
You may experience side effects from ADHD medication, such as sleep disturbances, mood swings, headaches, and a racing heart. Talk to your healthcare provider about side effects and if there are any other medications you can try.
Study-Backed Natural Remedies for ADHD
If you're looking for ways to cope with ADHD instead of or in addition to prescription medication, there are some supplements backed by research that may help. These include:
Caffeine is a stimulant, and many people with ADHD self-medicate with caffeine before being diagnosed or use it to treat their ADHD. Caffeine enhances 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 are on medication find they can enjoy a small amount of caffeine, while others find its negative effects outweigh the enjoyment.
Ginseng, an herbal remedy that has been used for centuries in Eastern medicine, has a reputation for stimulating brain function and increasing energy. Korean red ginseng has shown some potential to help calm symptoms of ADHD.
In 2011 researchers studied 18 children between ages 6 and 14 years old with ADHD. Each child was given 1,000 milligrams of ginseng twice daily for eight weeks. Researchers reported improvements in attention, anxiety, certain personality measures, and social functioning. This was a small study, and more research is needed to confirm the results, but it shows potential for this remedy.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their brain-protective qualities, and they may also be useful in lessening symptoms of ADHD.
Research has shown that omega-3s affect serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain and protect against damaging oxidative stress. These effects may be helpful 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, like salmon, sardines, and cod, two or three times per week can also be beneficial.
Zinc is a mineral that regulates dopamine levels. If you have low levels, it may contribute to attention issues. This mineral, found in meat, legumes (lentils, peas, and beans), seeds, nuts, and other foods, bolsters your immune system and helps your body make proteins to support cell membrane growth.
If you or your child is zinc deficient (which may be more likely if you’re vegetarian or vegan), taking a zinc supplement could be helpful in lessening your hyperactivity symptoms.
As with zinc, magnesium supplements are helpful only for people who experience magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium levels that are low can cause problems similar to ADHD, such as reduced attention span and irritability. A 2017 study of children with ADHD found that more than 70% of them experienced magnesium deficiency and benefited from taking magnesium supplements.
Iron is needed to make dopamine, and low iron levels have been associated with ADHD symptoms. Your healthcare provider can check your iron levels and prescribe a supplement if you need one. It is not advisable to take an iron supplement without medical advice.
Lifestyle Factors That May Help
Some lifestyle factors, like diet changes and exercise, have also been shown to be helpful in managing ADHD symptoms. These include:
Fill up on protein: Including protein with meals may help to manage ADHD symptoms. Not only does protein help to stabilize blood sugar levels, but protein also plays an important role in the production of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters, in particular dopamine and norepinephrine, are an important feature in treating ADHD.
An ADHD-friendly meal includes a balance of protein and fiber from vegetables, unprocessed fruit, or oatmeal.
Exercise regularly: Exercise can help to improve ADHD symptoms, including executive functioning (skills such as self-control, paying attention, and managing emotions). There have been many research studies on different types of exercise and how they help ADHD. The findings show that there is not one exercise type that is better than another.
Instead, it's important to pick an exercise that you enjoy and will feel motivated to do regularly. If you have a tendency to get bored, you could include a variety of your favorite exercises.
Reduce or avoid gluten (if you have a sensitivity): More research is needed in this area, but one study found that people with celiac disease (gluten intolerance) and ADHD saw significant improvement in their ADHD symptoms when sticking to a gluten-free diet.
Manage stress and prioritize sleep: No one actively seeks out stress but if you are not getting enough sleep because life is stressful, this may trigger your ADHD. Your ADHD itself could be the source of your stress, especially if your symptoms are leading to missed deadlines and an ever-growing to-do list.
Problems Associated With Untreated ADHD
Children with untreated ADHD may face 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 in making friends.
Adults with untreated ADHD are at much higher risk than the general population for 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 medication works for many people with ADHD, sometimes other remedies may be used to help with the symptoms.
Changes in diet to include more protein, exercise, and supplementing with zinc, iron, and magnesium in certain circumstances all have scientific backing. High stress and lack of sleep can trigger ADHD symptoms, so try to get as much rest as possible.
A Word From Verywell
There are lots of options for managing ADHD with natural remedies, but they are most likely to be helpful in combination with traditional medications. Be prepared for a little trial and error as you find the right treatment for you or your child.
Speak to your healthcare provider before adding any supplements or over-the-counter remedies to your daily routine, as these may interact with other medications you are taking.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What’s the difference between ADD and ADHD?
"ADD" is an outdated term for the form of ADHD now called inattentive ADHD. Having inattentive ADHD means a person shows enough symptoms of inattention (or easy distraction) but isn’t hyperactive or impulsive. People with hyperactive/impulsive ADHD show a persistent pattern of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.
- Why is it hard to focus when you have ADHD?
- What is the most common treatment for ADHD?
The treatment for ADHD may include medication, therapy, or a combination of both. For children with ADHD younger than 6 years of age, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends behavior management as the first line of treatment, before medication is tried.