Those diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may be interested in utilizing natural remedies rather than medication to manage symptoms. Individuals of all ages may benefit from lifestyle changes and various support options. These can include implementing exercise, spending time in nature, adjusting one’s diet, or seeking therapy.1, 2
Benefits of Natural Remedies for ADHD
ADHD medications can offer relief from certain ADHD symptoms. However, it is up to the individual, parent, and/or prescribing physician to determine if this is a treatment option they would like to consider. There are a number of reasons why an individual may not want to take medication, such as fears of becoming dependent on them or experiencing negative side effects. They may also simply be against pharmaceutical methods in general.
Treatment for ADHD in children tends to include medication, despite mixed research regarding its efficacy in addressing symptoms.1 A 1999 study concluded that medication was in fact beneficial, but results were contradicted by another case in 2007.1 These findings suggested that both medication and other treatment options, such as behavioral interventions and exercise, resulted in similar symptom improvements.1
Today, the gold standard for the treatment of ADHD includes the combination of prescription stimulants in addition to behavioral therapy. There are only two stimulant medications, methylphenidate (the active ingredient in Ritalin, Concerta and other formulations) and amphetamine (the active ingredient in Adderall, Vyvanse and other formulations). However, side effects of these prescription stimulants are known to occur.
Side effects of ADHD medications may include:3
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
9 Natural Remedies for ADHD
Alternative treatment for ADHD can be beneficial for those who would like to experience symptom relief without relying on a prescription or are experiencing unwanted or uncomfortable side effects from prescription medications. It’s important to perform research on various options and discuss these with your medical provider before determining the method of treatment that works best for you or your child.
Below are nine natural remedies for ADHD:
There are a handful of supplements that may be effective in helping a person manage their ADHD symptoms. Polyunsaturated fatty acids–particularly omega-3 fatty acids–can be beneficial in the treatment of mild cases of ADHD and as an adjunctive treatment for more severe cases.4. Supplements can potentially cause unwanted side effects and potentially dangerous interactions when used with other medications so therefore it is important to discuss with your healthcare provider before starting a new supplement.
There are also herbal remedies that may be utilized as well, including Ginkgo biloba and St. John’s Wort.4 However, there is little evidence to suggest these can improve ADHD symptoms.4
Supplements that may reduce ADHD symptoms include:2*
- Melatonin: Melatonin may help reduce ADHD insomnia, sometimes common in those with ADHD.
- Zinc: More research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of taking Zinc for ADHD symptoms, but it may help if a person has a deficiency.
- Iron: Like Zinc, this supplement may be beneficial if a person has an Iron deficiency.
- Magnesium: Magnesium can be helpful if a person has a deficiency.
- Omega-3: Fish oil supplements may help treat symptoms of ADHD, but improvements are typically small.
*Dietary supplements (including vitamins, supplements, herbs, and natural medicines) are not regulated the same way as medications by the FDA. These products do not have to have clinical trials to determine their safety and efficacy before they are sold. You should consult your doctor or pharmacist before starting any new dietary supplement.
2. Physical Exercise
There are various mental health benefits of exercise, particularly for individuals with ADHD. If someone struggles with implementing exercise into their routines, they can try starting out by going for walks or attending yoga classes. Alternatively, they can consider ecotherapy or adventure therapy that incorporate physical movement with psychotherapy.
One study found that children who took Tai Chi classes twice per week experienced an improvement in their ADHD symptoms.5 Another case reported that participants who used a treadmill for 20 minutes were better able to avoid making mistakes when playing a computer game, as opposed to those who read beforehand.1
Benefits of exercise for those with ADHD include:
- Decreased anxiety
- Improved conduct
- Decreased negative emotions
- Decreased hyperactivity
- Less “daydreaming”
- Improved ability to cope with stress
Therapy is encouraged in the treatment of ADHD.7. Whether an individual chooses to take medication for their symptoms or not, engaging in therapy is beneficial. Behavior therapy is a common and popular option, especially for children with ADHD.7 If you’re interested in finding the right therapist, you can start by searching an online therapist directory or asking for a referral from your doctor.
Therapy options for ADHD include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT):CBT for ADHD helps address procrastination as well as time and task management.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT): DBT mainly incorporates skill training to help clients better manage and tolerate emotional distress. Additionally, DBT can assist with problem-solving strategies that help an individual identify and replace maladaptive behaviors with more effective ones.
- Family therapy: Family therapy can help with issues within familial relationships and difficulty with adjusting to a life situation (such as a family member being diagnosed with ADHD). Family therapy can also be utilized in conjunction with other mental health therapies.
- Behavior therapy: The focus with behavior therapy is turning negative, unwanted behaviors into positive ones.6 With children, parents can utilize a reward system that promotes specific behaviors.6. Additionally, this can also help the parent change their behaviors, as well.6
Mindfulness includes focusing one’s attention on their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, thus increasing their self-awareness in the current moment.8Practicing mindfulness may help with improving some ADHD symptoms, as it builds an individual’s ability to self-observe and remain focused.8 Further, it can also help one train their attention and develop effective responses to stress.8 Mindfulness can be done “on the go” and does not require setting aside time for practice.
Meditation refers to a group of techniques that focus on the mind-body connection. Meditation and mindfulness are related concepts, but meditation for ADHD incorporates a formal practice that is done for a certain length of time.9 Meditation thickens the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is involved in focus, planning, and impulse control. Therefore, it is believed to help those with ADHD.10 Additionally, meditation raises dopamine levels in the brain, which is known to be in short supply for those with ADHD.10
6. Diet Changes
Although diet changes cannot cure ADHD, they may impact a person’s behaviors.11 Certain foods appear to worsen ADHD symptoms, particularly in children.12 Whether food colorings and artificial additives contribute to ADHD or not is still unknown.12 However, it may be helpful to eliminate these from one’s diet in order to monitor for symptom improvement.12. For example, avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages, candy, and colorful cereals, and replacing them with more wholesome, fresh foods can be a good first step.12
7. Being in Nature
There are many benefits of nature on one’s mental and physical health. Some studies suggest spending time outside can increase a person’s ability to concentrate.2 One survey found that children with ADHD who participated in various outdoor activities appeared to exhibit a reduction in symptoms.13 Furthermore, placing a work desk by a window that faces the outside helps to improve one’s attention.13
8. Healthy Sleep Schedules
An individual’s sleep quality significantly impacts their health, mood, energy levels, and cognitive functioning. Sleep problems are very common among those diagnosed with ADHD. Experts suggest that an extra thirty minutes of sleep can help prevent children from becoming restless during school.1 On the contrary, decreased sleep can lead to increased tantrums and frustration. In 2012, Gruber published a paper that shared a study she held with children diagnosed with ADHD. The results showed that with the extra thirty minutes of sleep, there were noticeable results with reported behavior improvements in those children who slept more 1.
9. Electroencephalographic (EEG) Biofeedback
Biofeedback monitors and provides real-time data on an individual’s physiological responses, including muscle tension, heart rate, sweating, breathing, and brain waves.14 Many with ADHD exhibit low levels of arousal in the frontal areas of the brain.14 Electroencephalographic (EEG) biofeedback–now called neurofeedback or neurotherapy–is an intervention that may be utilized to train the brain into increasing these levels, leading to reduction in ADHD symptoms.14
Living with ADHD can be challenging at times, but there are many traditional and holistic options available for treatment. Deciding what is best for yourself or a loved one may take time. Regardless, it is worth reinforcing that the use of any medication, including supplements and herbal remedies, carry some risk and should never be taken without discussing with a doctor first.2