Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be debilitating for adults and children alike.
ADHD is characterized by inattention, impulsivity, and/or hyperactivity. It affects 5-10% of school children worldwide with symptoms continuing into adulthood in about 60% of cases.
Conventional ADHD medications have a role to play in the management of ADHD symptoms. Yet, new evidence shows that supplements may be a promising adjunctive therapy.
This article will explore some ADHD vitamins that may be used as alternative treatments for ADHD. They include vitamins, minerals, herbs, and hormones.
But, because natural supplements are not regulated by the FDA, it means that there is no guarantee that what’s on the bottle is actually in the bottle. ADHD supplements might be helpful but they need careful consideration with your doctor first.
Read more about our treatment options here!
Vitamins are crucial for normal brain development and function and are as important in ADHD. Nutritional ADHD supplements including vitamins have been suggested as a treatment for ADHD.
Vitamin C Supplements
There aren’t enough studies showing significant results for the use of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in ADHD. Vitamin C may decrease the absorption of medications used in the treatment of ADHD.
These medications include Dextroamphetamine and Amphetamine (Dexedrine, Zenzedi, and Adderall). Thus, monitoring the response to these medications is important when used together with vitamin C.
One way to avoid this interaction is by waiting a few hours between Vitamin C ingestion and Amphetamines.
One study found that Vitamin C supplementation in children helped improve ADHD symptoms. But, the study also used flax oil, a source of Omega-3 fatty acids, so it’s hard to tell if the positive response was due to Vitamin C or the flax oil. Vitamin C also helps significantly with iron absorption. And Iron is an important mineral in ADHD as well.
Vitamin B Supplements
One study found that pregnant women who do not get enough folate (vitamin B9) are more likely to give birth to children suffering from ADHD. One study found that taking magnesium and vitamin B6 for 2 months reduced hyperactivity and aggressiveness. It also improved school attention.
Also, when the Mg-B6 treatment was stopped, symptoms of the disease reappeared in few weeks together with a decrease in Mg values. One 2016 study on adults suffering from ADHD showed that lower levels of the vitamins B2, B6, and B9 were associated with the ADHD diagnosis.
Also, lower levels of B2 and B6 were associated with a higher symptom load. Yet, lower vitamin B6 and B9 levels were associated with smoking, which may have influenced the results. But, further studies are needed to determine whether B vitamins supplementation may play a role in the treatment of ADHD.
Vitamin D Supplements
A 2018 study found that children with ADHD had significantly lower levels of vitamin D than those without ADHD. They were also more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency.
The same study showed that the children who received vitamin D showed improvements in cognitive function. These findings suggest that Vitamin D supplementation may improve cognitive function in ADHD. Yet, further research is necessary to confirm this theory.
In a 2018 study, patients taking Methylphenidate (Ritalin) were given vitamin D.supplementation. Results showed that adding vitamin D lead to remarkable improvements in inattention symptoms after 6 weeks.
Recent findings suggested that minerals might play an important role in the pathology of ADHD as well. These nutrients include:
Zinc is an essential mineral that plays an important role in brain health. Zinc deficiencies may be a known cause of ADHD in children. Foods high in zinc include seafood, red meat, poultry, dairy products, beans, nuts, whole grains, and fortified cereals.
A 2015 review found that zinc supplementation may help treat ADHD symptoms in children with zinc deficiency. But, it is not clear if zinc supplements help children who do not suffer from zinc deficiency.
Also, in these children, iron deficiency was linked with more severe ADHD symptoms. Thus, iron supplementation may be beneficial for iron-deficient children suffering from ADHD. But, more studies are needed.
Magnesium is also an essential mineral for normal brain function. Potential side effects of magnesium supplementation include nausea, diarrhea, and cramps. Foods rich in magnesium include dairy products, whole grains, beans, and leafy greens.
A 2020 study concluded that Vitamin D and magnesium in children with ADHD were effective on conduct problems and social problems. Also, it helped with anxiety and shyness.
In another study, vitamin B6 and magnesium supplements were given to 40 children with ADHD. After 8 weeks, hyperactivity, aggressiveness, and mental focus improved in all children. A few weeks after supplements were stopped, the ADHD symptoms returned.
One of the most common alternatives to traditional treatments for ADHD is herbal remedies. Although herbs are natural, it doesn’t mean they are more effective than drugs in treating ADHD.
Often, there is limited scientific evidence proving their effectiveness. Here’s a list of herbal supplements that are under investigation as potential treatments for ADHD.
Ginkgo Biloba Supplements
Ginkgo biloba is an herb that derives from the leaves of the G. Biloba tree. It contains terpene trilactones which are chemicals that help protect against brain cell damage. G
inkgo biloba might be a useful alternative treatment as a natural supplement for ADHD. But, larger studies are required before firm conclusions can be made.
Also, the plant can increase the bleeding risk. People who take blood-thinning drugs or have bleeding disorders should use them with caution. The National Institutes of Health lists the following as potential side effects of the plant:
- Gastrointestinal upset
- Allergic skin reactions
In 2013, a small study investigated the effects of ginkgo biloba on childhood ADHD. Administration of the herb at a maximal dosage of 240 mg daily for 3–5 weeks improved ADHD symptoms. Children showed improvements in attention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.
A 2014 review concluded that ginkgo biloba is much less effective than conventional ADHD medication. However, is unclear if the herb is any better than a placebo. The review noted the potential for increased bleeding risk with ginkgo biloba treatment and advised against its use for ADHD.
Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), is also called water hyssop, thyme-leaved gratiola, and herb of grace. It is a staple plant in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.
The herb has been used for centuries to improve brain function and memory. Today, it is often used as an alternative to treat ADHD. Existing studies have conflicting results. Thus, the herb needs to be better researched before it can be recommended for ADHD therapy.
In a 2013 study, adults who took Brahmi were shown to retain more new information. One study in 31 children found that 225 mg of Brahmi extract daily for 6 months helped ADHD symptoms improve in most of the children. Also, it was well-tolerated.
Gotu Kola Supplements
Gotu kola is a plant that has been used for centuries in Chinese, Indonesian, and Ayurvedic medicine. The herb is known to reduce stress levels, treat anxiety, and have anti-inflammatory properties. Gotu Kola may also help relieve mental clarity and anxiety associated with ADHD.
In a 2020 study, 12g of Gotu kola were shown to have anxiolytic properties in humans. Yet, it was a small-scale study and larger studies need to be done before any conclusion can be made.
Korean Red Ginseng Supplements
Ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for many years. It contains two significant compounds: ginsenosides and gintonin. These compounds are known to provide health benefits such as improvement in brain functions.
Ginseng can be classified in three ways: fresh, white, or red, depending on how long it is grown. The “red ginseng” is known to relieve symptoms of ADHD.
A study investigated the effects of Korean red ginseng on ADHD in 18 children between 6 and 14. Korean red ginseng (Panax ginseng) at 1,000 mg was administered twice daily for 8 weeks.
The results showed that Korean red ginseng can be effective in improving inattentiveness in ADHD children. It remains unclear if it improves the general severity of ADHD. More studies need to be done to confirm any of these results.
Valerian Root and Lemon Balm Supplements
A study examined whether treatment with a fixed combination of valerian root and lemon balm improved symptoms of ADHD. These included concentration, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.
169 children with symptoms of ADHD were given 640 mg valerian root extract and 320 mg lemon balm extract. After 7 weeks, lack of concentration, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness decreased considerably. Social behavior, sleep, and symptom burden also improved.
Pycnogenol is a standardized extract from the bark of the French maritime pine. Pycnogenol is a promising botanical alternative in the management of ADHD symptoms. However, more studies are needed before it can be used as an ADHD treatment.
Many studies on Pycnogenol showed its potentiality to improve ADHD symptoms in patients. A study with 61 participants aged 6–14 years reported that 1 mg/kg/day of Pycnogenol for 1 month alleviated ADHD symptoms.
One month after the termination of Pycnogenol, there was a relapse of symptoms in ADHD participants. Yet, the small number of participants and the short duration of the study limit the generalization of the study’s findings. Another study showed that pine bark extract has antioxidant effects.
St. John’s Wort Supplements
A 2008 study of 54 children with ADHD, 6 to 17 years of age, found that St. John’s wort for 8 weeks did not show an improvement of ADHD symptoms.
In light of these findings, more studies are required to determine the efficacy of St. John’s wort as one of the many alternative treatments for ADHD.
Other Natural ADHD Vitamins & Supplements
Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids Supplements
Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that plays an essential role in brain health. Fish are the best food source of omega-3 fatty acids. Some plants also contain omega-3 fatty acids.
There are two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids in fish — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). In plants, the form of omega-3 is called alpha-linolenic (ALA).
Studies have shown that people with ADHD have lower levels of DHA in their blood compared with people who do not have these disorders. DHA can be found in fatty fish, fish oil pills, and krill oil. Current evidence is inconclusive on whether omega-3 fatty acids could provide any benefit in ADHD.
A 2018 review found some evidence that omega-3 fatty acid improves symptoms in children and adolescents with ADHD. The review also showed that these children have a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acid levels.
A 2017 review that included a total of 16 RCTs studied the relationship between combinations of omega-3/6 fatty acids and ADHD symptoms. Participants in each of these trials received either an essential fatty acids supplement or a placebo.
In 13 of the trials, the participants who took the essential fatty acids supplements showed improvements in ADHD symptoms.
Sometimes, sleep disorders in people with ADHD are a side effect of stimulant medication. Stimulants work by increasing activity in the brain and central nervous system.
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. It might be useful for children diagnosed with ADHD who experience sleep disturbances. Melatonin is a promising hormone for the treatment of ADHD. More data is needed to conclude the safety and efficacy of long-term melatonin use in ADHD.
A 2017 review included 12 studies on melatonin and behavioral insomnia in children with ADHD. There were improvements in sleep onset insomnia as well as total sleep duration.
A 2019 study investigated children who developed sleep problems as a result of taking methylphenidate. Results showed that melatonin improved sleep problems in 60.8% of participants.
ADHD supplements may one day be used as alternative treatments for treating ADHD. While studies are still in their early stages, extra research needs to be done. Also, these supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA and some of them interact with ADHD medications.
If you or your child suffer from ADHD, consult a doctor about potential treatment options. Your doctor will provide medical advice and help you understand the benefits and risks of these supplements. He will also help you determine the best dosage level for your specific situation.