Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a growing problem in children as well as adolescents, and it poses a huge burden for families. In this article, we’re going to look at how some popular natural supplements show promising results in helping to manage ADHD
The condition is characterized by age-inappropriate behavior: the child finds it difficult or impossible to pay attention for any length of time and tends to behave impulsively.
ADHD can result in social, academic and mental health problems that can affect a child’s life negatively for many years.
Medications like methylphenidate and amphetamine are often prescribed to treat ADHD, but they are not always effective and can have side effects.
Besides, parents are not keen on medicating their children with conventional medications like Ritalin.
Therefore, there’s a lot of ongoing research around the causes and potential solutions for this affection.
One area scientists are looking into is polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and their role in children’s learning and behavior.
Children and adolescents with ADHD have been shown to have significantly lower plasma and blood concentrations of PUFA, especially omega-3.
These findings suggest that PUFA supplementation may reduce the attention and other behavior problems associated with this condition.
There is some evidence that fish oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acids, can improve ADHD symptoms.
One randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study that lasted 16 weeks involved 81 children aged 6 -12 years old, diagnosed with ADHD.
The doctors wanted to see how treatment with omega-3 fatty acids would affect their behavior and cognitive difficulties.
The results were mixed. Supplementation improved working memory but had no other effects.
Another well-designed research study tested for hyperactivity improvements in 63 children 6 to 12 years old with ADHD.
This study found that four month’s DHA supplementation did not decrease symptoms of the disorder.
In one study, 41 children aged 8-12 years with specific learning difficulties and above-average ADHD ratings were randomly allocated to receive highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFA) supplementation or a placebo.
After 12 weeks, the group that received HUFA scored significantly lower on cognitive and general behavior problems compared to the placebo group.
The researchers concluded that HUFA supplementation appears to reduce ADHD-related symptoms in children with specific learning difficulties.
Although this sounds very promising, it’s still early to make any positive conclusions: a major 2011 Cochrane review of 13 trials concluded that “there is little evidence that PUFA supplementation provides any benefit for the symptoms of ADHD in children and adolescents.”
Ginkgo Biloba is one of the oldest living tree species and is native to China. Ginkgo has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Gingko leaf extract is used to make tablets, capsules or teas to treat a variety of ailments, including blood disorders, memory, cardiovascular, and eye problems.
In one double-blind, randomized study, 50 children with ADHD received either 80 – 120mg EGb-761 (a Ginkgo extract) or a dose of methylphenidate (Ritalin) for six weeks.
As assessed by parents and teachers, both groups showed fewer symptoms of ADHD, but the ginkgo extract was less effective.
In another study, EG-761 was administered to 20 children with ADHD over 3 to 5 weeks. The dosage was increased to a maximum of 240 mg daily if a child’s attention problems persisted.
In addition to a slight improvement in ADHD symptoms, some children experienced mild adverse side effects to the ginkgo extract.
The scientists concluded that more research is necessary to assert ginkgo biloba as a useful alternative treatment for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
L-carnitine is an amino acid (a building block for proteins) that is naturally produced in the body.
Several studies on L-carnitine as a possible treatment for ADHD in children have shown promise.
One study indicated that carnitine has a beneficial effect on the hyperactive-impulsive behavior in boys affected by this condition.
In one Dutch study, treatment with carnitine was found to significantly decrease the attention problems and aggressive behavior in boys with ADHD.
L-carnitine has also been studied as a possible treatment for children with fragile x syndrome.
Fragile X syndrome is a genetic condition that causes a range of developmental problems including learning disabilities and cognitive impairment. Some of them may also be diagnosed with ADHD.
There’s an urgent need to find an effective treatment for individuals with fragile X syndrome and several studies have looked into the possibilities of L-carnitine as a possible treatment.
Could L-carnitine be the answer?
One double-blind, parallel study involved eight centers in Italy, France, and Spain and 56 boys with ADHD (aged 6-13 years).
The scientists saw a greater reduction of hyperactivity and improvement of social behavior in boys treated with L-carnitine, compared with the placebo group.
The scientists in this study concluded that L-carnitine is a safe alternative to the use of stimulant drugs for the treatment of ADHD in FXS children.
These studies are small, though, and more research is needed.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a special nutrient found in fish, green leafy vegetables, soybeans, and rice, and is essential for the normal functioning of brain cell membranes. It can be synthesized by your body.
Older people are sometimes given PS supplementation to improve memory and cognitive capacity.
In studies with children with ADHD, it seems hyperactivity and attention problems decrease when children are given PS.
In one well-designed study PS supplementation significantly improved ADHD symptoms and short-term hearing memory in children. The trial lasted six months.
The researchers concluded that PS supplementation might be a safe and natural nutritional strategy to improve mental performance in young children suffering from ADHD
Another study that involved 147 children with ADHD found that supplementation of PS combined with fish oil fatty acids was able to improve the symptoms, especially those symptoms related to inattention and emotional stability.
Multiple studies have confirmed that zinc levels are lower in children with ADHD.
In a study of 118 children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, those with the lowest blood levels of zinc had the most severe behavior, anxiety, and hyperactivity problems as rated by their parents.
It seems that the lower the zinc levels, the more severe the symptoms.
So, it seems to make sense that supplementation with zinc would alleviate ADHD symptoms.
However, scientific research doesn’t currently support this view.
Scientists have found that zinc supplements reduce hyperactive, impulsive and poor socialization symptoms, but not attention deficiency symptoms.
In one study, 15-30 mg elemental zinc was given to children with ADHD for eight weeks, followed by an additional 5 weeks when the zinc was paired with D-amphetamine.
The result was that with the zinc, the scientists could lower the optimal dose of amphetamine.
However, while the lower dose of amphetamine is desirable, it didn’t help with attention problems.
At the moment, there is not yet conclusive scientific evidence that any supplements would be successful as a treatment for ADHD in children.
However, some of them show promising results, and as we have the opportunity to gather more information and scientific evidence, we might in the future have more options to help families facing a diagnosis of ADHD.