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9 Home Remedies for ADHD That Are Worth a Try

ADHD medications can help reduce symptoms. However, these 9 home remedies for ADHD may be worth a try.

What is ADHD?

Difficulty concentrating? Sitting still or controlling impulsive behaviors? Attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) affects 11 percent of school-age children, and symptoms often continue into adulthood, according to the organization Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). Untreated—or undertreated—ADHD can cause problems with school, work, and relationships. Medication can be very effective at reining in ADHD symptoms, but these drugs do confer their fair share of side effects namely sleeplessness and loss of appetite. The decision to start ADHD medication is not an easy one for parents as kids must take these drugs for the long haul. As a result, many people are searching for home remedies for ADHD that really work—and these have some evidence to back them up.

Avoiding artificial food coloring

Some research dating back to the 1970s suggests that food colorings may cause hyperactivity in susceptible kids. A widely quoted study in the Lancet led certain European countries to ban some of these ingredients. In the study, children who consumed a drink containing artificial colors and preservatives exerted symptoms of hyperactivity. The US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Advisory Committee, however, determined that the studies to date do not prove there’s a link between food coloring and ADHD or warrant a ban. “There is accumulating evidence that artificial colors can have a small, but significant detrimental effect on behavior in children—and possibly adults—with ADHD, ” says Eugene Arnold, MD, professor emeritus at the Center for Psychiatry and Behavioral Health of the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus and a CHADD spokesperson. “They are not the main cause of ADHD, but there are some individuals in which food dyes may be an important one.” His advice? Avoid them. “They don’t have any nutritional or health benefits and are only used to make foods more attractive.” Read the labels and choose products without artificial colors and dyes and see if this is one of the home remedies for ADHD that works for you.

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Upping omega-3s

The omega-3 fatty acids found in high supply in certain types of fish may help put the brakes on inflammation. Dr. Arnold points out they’re good for your heart and there is compelling evidence that omega-3s are also good for the brain—potentially one of the home remedies for ADHD. “The brain is made up of 60 percent fat and fat insulates the neurons to help the brain run more smoothly,” he says. “Inflammation is involved in many brain disorders and the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3w may also help.” Research in Neuropsychopharmacology found that children with ADHD had low levels of omega-3 in their blood; when the kids got omega-3 supplements, their ADHD symptoms including hyperactivity, inattention, impulsivity, and cognitive performances improved. The benefits aren’t immediate, says Dr. Arnold: “It can take three months to build up your levels.”Omega 3’s can’t be manufactured in the body, which means we can only get them through diet—namely fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and trout, or supplements. Here are more omega-3 foods that aren’t fish.

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Try behavioral therapy

Behavioral therapy can help mitigate ADHD symptoms, especially when combined with medication. You can create structure for the time spent at home by developing routines and schedules that you refer to regularly. Parents can help by praising a child for what they do well instead of criticizing their behaviors. The National Institute of Mental Health’s Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with ADHD showed that medication therapy alone or medication with behavioral therapy resulted in the greatest improvement in a child’s ADHD symptoms when compared with treatment by a local doctor, even if this care included medication. The combination worked best in improving anger management and emotional control, benefiting interactions with parents and school, the JAMA Psychiatry study revealed. “The combination treatment provides the extra benefit of addressing associated symptoms of ADHD and improving level of functioning in ADHD patients, and reducing the dose required for drug treatment which in turn, could reduce drug-related side effects,” says Ike De La Peña, PhD, assistant professor of Pharmaceutical and Administrative Sciences at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California. Don’t miss what you should know about using CBD for ADHD as an alternative treatment.

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Considering micronutrients

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that we need in smaller supply than other nutrients, and there is some evidence that kids with ADHD may have an imbalance of micronutrients. When researchers gave children with ADHD a micronutrient supplement containing 13 vitamins, 17 minerals, and four amino acids, the kids showed marked improvements in attention symptoms and general functioning compared with those who took a dummy pill or placebo; however, the supplement didn’t seem to help with hyperactivity or impulse control. The results appear Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. “If kids don’t eat a balanced diet, a multivitamin with a whole spectrum of nutrients is a good idea,” Dr. Arnold says.

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No screens before bedtime

Sleep is important for healthy brain function, and one of the best ways to encourage your kids to get better sleep is to restrict their use of phones, computers, and other blue-light emitting devices for two hours before bed, advises Dr. Arnold. Helping kids get better sleep can be one of the simplest home remedies for ADHD. “Use of these devices prevents the onset of melatonin, a hormone which the brain needs to go to sleep.” These are things that can happen to your body if you take melatonin.

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Moving more

Exercise increases feel-good chemicals in the brain such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin and this can have the same effect on the brain as the stimulant methylphenidate—a drug that doctors commonly prescribe to treat ADHD, Dr. Arnold says. A review of 30 studies looking at how exercise affects ADHD functions in kids gives it the thumbs up. Exercise—especially moderate to strenuous aerobic such as running—improves cognitive, behavioral and physical symptoms of ADHD, according to findings published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine. “Approaches like yoga or tai chi that combine movement with meditative mental states may be a good option, says John Kruse, MD, PhD, a San Francisco-based neuroscientist and psychiatrist.

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Spending time outdoors

The benefits of nature can be medicine for your brain. Kids who play outdoors in areas with lots of green tend to have milder ADHD symptoms than those who play indoors or in more urban areas, finds a study in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. “Many individuals experience a direct soothing and restorative experience being in nature, and many of my ADHD patients have reported being more alert and enhanced concentration after time spent in green spaces, ” says Dr. Kruse.

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Considering melatonin

Some doctors recommend melatonin as a supplement to prevent jet lag among weary travelers; there is some research that suggests it can help treat insomnia in children with ADHD, according to a study in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology. “There may be a role in some children with ADHD, but further study is needed,” Dr. Arnold says. This is what you should know about taking melatonin for sleep before you start.

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Trying caffeine and L-theanine

It’s still early to say for sure, but research suggests that there is something about the combination of L-theanine and caffeine that may improve ADHD symptoms, says Chanaka N. Kahathuduwa, PhD, assistant professor at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas. A small study showed improved attention and cognitive performance and decreased impulsivity among kids with ADHD who took the combo. That said, impulsivity increased when either substance was administered alone, suggesting there is something synergistic taking place.The doses we used—2.5 mg per kilogram of body weight for L-theanine and 2 mg/kg —of caffeine are low and considered safe for children,” says Kahathuduwa. There were no side effects seen in this small trial. Exactly how this combination reduces ADHD symptoms is not clear, but researchers suspect that it activates the brain’s default mode network, which may be weakened in ADHD. The study found that the kids’ attention was sharper when they got the combination. The next step, he says, is a large-scale clinical trial. “We only have pilot data, but there is no harm in asking your doctor about caffeine and L-theanine.” If you’re dealing with an energetic toddler, check out these signs of ADHD.

Sources
  • Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD): "About ADHD"
  • Lancet: "Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial"
  • Eugene Arnold, MD, Professor Emeritus, Center for Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Columbus
  • Neuropsychopharmacology: "Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Youths with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Clinical Trials and Biological Studies"
  • JAMA Psychiatry: "A 14-Month Randomized Clinical Trial of Treatment Strategies for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder"
  • Ike De La Peña, PhD, Assistant Professor, Pharmaceutical and Administrative Sciences Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California
  • Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry: "Vitamin‐mineral treatment improves aggression and emotional regulation in children with ADHD: a fully blinded, randomized, placebo‐controlled trial"
  • Complementary Therapies in Medicine: "Managing childhood and adolescent attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with exercise: A systematic review"
  • John Kruse, MD, PhD, neuroscientist and psychiatrist, San Francisco
  • Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being: "Could Exposure to Everyday Green Spaces Help Treat ADHD? Evidence from Children's Play Settings"
  • Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology: "To Sleep or Not To Sleep: A Systematic Review of the Literature of Pharmacological Treatments of Insomnia in Children and Adolescents with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder"
  • Chanaka N. Kahathuduwa, assistant professor, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas
  • American Society for Nutrition: "L-theanine and Caffeine Improve Sustained Attention, Impulsivity, and Cognition in Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders by Decreasing Mind Wandering"
Medically reviewed by Oscar H. Cingolani, MD, on November 02, 2019

Denise Mann, MS
Denise Mann is a freelance health writer whose articles regularly appear in WebMD, HealthDay, and other consumer health portals. She has received numerous awards, including the Arthritis Foundation's Northeast Region Prize for Online Journalism; the Excellence in Women's Health Research Journalism Award; the Journalistic Achievement Award from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery; National Newsmaker of the Year by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America; the Gold Award for Best Service Journalism from the Magazine Association of the Southeast; a Bronze Award from The American Society of Healthcare Publication Editors (for a cover story she wrote in Plastic Surgery Practice magazine); and an honorable mention in the International Osteoporosis Foundation Journalism Awards. She was part of the writing team awarded a 2008 Sigma Delta Chi award for her part in a WebMD series on autism. Her first foray into health reporting was with the Medical Tribune News Service, where her articles appeared regularly in such newspapers as the Detroit Free Press, Chicago Sun-Times, Dallas Morning News, and Los Angeles Daily News. Mann received a graduate degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and her undergraduate degree from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. She lives in New York with her husband David; sons Teddy and Evan; and their miniature schnauzer, Perri Winkle Blu.

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