Natural treatments for ADHD are growing in popularity among patients and physicians. This is because ADHD medications often do not offer complete relief of symptoms and have potential to cause some scary side effects. Research shows that some medication free approaches are worth looking at, at least for complementing medications, if not for getting rid of them entirely. However, not all natural treatments are backed up by research, and not all research in the area of complementary treatments for ADHD shows that natural treatments are safe. The treatments in this article either have positive side effects, which make them worth doing in and of themselves, or they have significant clinical trial evidence to suggest that they work.
Positive side effects and theoretical effectiveness for ADHD
Get enough sleep. This also means fixing restless sleep (for example, if you have itching or snoring that is disrupting sleep). Not enough sleep causes symptoms of ADHD, as well as causing a host of other health and safety issues.
Eat healthy. A study published in 2011 showed an association between the Western diet (fast foods, red and processed meats, potato chips, high fat dairy products and soft drinks) and ADHD in teenagers. A healthy diet (fish, vegetables, fresh fruit, whole grains, and low fat dairy products) was not associated with ADHD. We don’t know if that means a healthy diet will help ADHD. But if it doesn’t help your ADHD, it should help the rest of your body be at its best.
Get enough exercise. A hour a day for kids is not that easy, but it helps sleep, if nothing else. The benefits of exercise far outweigh the risks.
Minimal side effects and demonstrated effectiveness for ADHD
Take an omega 3/omega 6 fatty acid supplement. Omega 3’s, like DHA, may work for some people with ADHD. You have to take big doses–300-600mg omega 3/30-60mg omega 6 daily for children, 1000mg omega 3 daily for adults. It takes 2-3 months to know if it is working. If the extract comes from fish, you risk mercury poisoning, so choose a brand that is certified mercury free. Some people get an upset stomach or worsening in their cholesterol, though without an increase in heart attack risk.
See a counselor. For adults, an ADHD coach can help you with organization, time management, and other skills to help you cope in the workplace or at home. Counseling may also mean training for parents on how to manage their child’s behavior. Parent training is the treatment of first choice for preschoolers with ADHD. Expense and access can be a issues depending on insurance coverage and location. A plus for counseling is that it teaches skills that you keep for life, even when you are off medication.
Eliminate artificial colors. The official position of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is that the evidence for this diet is enough to say it is worth a try, especially in preschoolers. Remember that in the strictest sense, dye may also be absorbed from things like toothpaste, soap, and shampoo.
In my next article, I’ll examine more natural treatments for ADHD–the ones that may be worth a try if medication or other alternative methods have failed. These treatments either are similar to the ones listed above, but have questionable components, or have only very limited clinical trial evidence that they work.