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Are There Alternative Medicines for ADHD?

My son has been diagnosed with ADHD. Before giving him medications, I'd like to try other, natural methods of treatment. Are there any alternative medicines or over-the-counter (OTC) supplements that have been shown to improve ADHD symptoms?
 

Answer

Many alternative medicines, including herbs and other supplements, have been proposed to improve symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Often, no or very little research has been done to see if they are truly helpful.
 
Sometimes, only a few case reports (in which one person reports an improvement) have been used to claim that a certain supplement works. Some supplements can also have serious side effects, so be cautious when choosing supplements and let your healthcare provider know if you or your child is using any alternative or over-the-counter (OTC) supplements.
 
Some research has suggested that a few natural products or supplements may be helpful for certain people with ADHD. However, long-term studies have not been done to examine how safe or effective they are over several years.
 
SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine) is sometimes used to treat depression and osteoarthritis. A small amount of research suggests it might improve attention, restlessness, impulsivity, and self-control in adults with ADHD. However, SAMe has not been shown to be useful for ADHD in children.
 
Children with ADHD sometimes have a lower amount of essential fatty acids. Eating more fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and trout) or taking fish oil supplements might help improve behavior and thought processes in some children with ADHD.
 
Children with ADHD sometimes have lower serum zinc levels than children without ADHD. For children with low zinc levels, zinc supplements -- whether taken alone or added to treatment with stimulants -- may improve symptoms. Most children in the United States do not have a zinc deficiency, however, and zinc supplements would not be expected to help these children.
 
Multivitamin supplements are considered safe for children and adults. However, vitamin and minerals in high doses (above the recommended daily allowances) can cause effects such as nausea and diarrhea, and can even be toxic. High doses should be avoided. There is no evidence that supplementing with individual vitamins or minerals improves ADHD symptoms in those who do not have a vitamin or mineral deficiency.
 
Some people use calming herbal teas (chamomile, passion flower) for ADHD. While these products may produce a sedative-type effect, they have not been shown to decrease symptoms.
 
Some supplements that have not been shown to be effective and may be dangerous in children or adults include kava, amino acids (for example, tryptophan), and blue-green algae. In addition, long-term use of melatonin can affect development and should be avoided in children.
 
Good research on supplements is scarce, and no supplement has shown a significant and reliable effect on ADHD symptoms for most people. For best results, work with your healthcare provider to find a treatment plan that works for you or your child with ADHD.
 
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