The Top 10 Natural ADHD Approaches Backed by Clinical Research

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a diagnosis given to millions of children worldwide, and is characterized by behaviors and symptoms such as impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity that can significantly impair academic performance and social functioning.

There are many theories that attempt to explain its origins, with the primary focus being on neurochemical and even genetic explanations that overlook environmental factors such as diet, chemical exposures, vaccinations, pharmaceutical drugs, and the role that non-native electromagnetic fields may play. There are also psychospiritual and emotional factors that are rarely discussed. While powerful stimulant drugs like Ritalin and Adderall (stimulant drugs) are commonly prescribed, they come with a host of potential side effects and risks. Fortunately, a growing body of scientific evidence points to safe, effective natural approaches for alleviating ADHD symptoms and optimizing brain health.

The Prevalence and Conventional Treatment of ADHD

ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorders in children, with an estimated prevalence of 5-7% worldwide.1 The condition often persists into adulthood, affecting work performance, relationships, and overall quality of life. The conventional medical approach to managing ADHD relies heavily on stimulant medications like methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamine (Adderall). While these drugs can be effective for some in reducing core ADHD symptoms in the short-term, they come with risks of adverse effects like sleep disturbances, appetite suppression, irritability, tics, and slowed growth in children.2 Stimulant medications also have significant abuse potential, and their long-term effects on the developing brain remain unclear. For these reasons, many parents and individuals with ADHD are seeking safer, more natural alternatives for symptom management.

The Top 10 Evidence-Based Natural Treatments for ADHD

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Numerous studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA found in fish oil, can help improve attention and reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity in children with ADHD. One 2019 study found that an intake of 550mg EPA and 225mg DHA per day for 8 weeks was associated with "less marked impulsive behaviour" in children with ADHD.3 A 2011 meta-analysis concluded that "Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, particularly with higher doses of EPA, was modestly effective in the treatment of ADHD."4

2. Elimination Diets

Several studies have found that eliminating certain foods and additives, such as artificial food colorings and preservatives, can significantly reduce ADHD symptoms. A 2004 meta-analysis found that artificial food colorings are associated with "neurobehavioral toxicity" in children with hyperactive syndromes.5 Another study concluded that the "ingestion of gluten seems to be related" to ADHD and other neurological disorders.

3. Vitamin and Mineral Supplementation

Deficiencies in certain micronutrients, like magnesium, iron, and zinc, have been linked to an increased risk of ADHD. A 2019 meta-analysis found that an inverse relationship exists between serum magnesium levels and ADHD, suggesting that magnesium supplementation may be beneficial.7 Other potentially helpful nutrients include B vitamins, and vitamin D.

4. Probiotics

Emerging research indicates that an imbalance in gut bacteria (dysbiosis) may contribute to ADHD. A 2022 study found that a specific probiotic strain, Bifidobacterium longum BF-688, led to improvements in clinical symptoms and weight gain in children with ADHD.8 The researchers concluded that "Probiotic BF-688 supplement can assist treatment for ADHD in children."

5. Herbal Medicines

Certain herbs and plant extracts have shown promise for reducing ADHD symptoms in clinical trials. Bacopa monnieri, a traditional Ayurvedic herb, was found to have "the potential to improve cognition" in a 2014 meta-analysis, with implications for ADHD treatment.9 Other potentially beneficial botanicals include ginkgo biloba, pine bark extract, and valerian root.

6. Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness-based interventions, which train individuals to pay attention to the present moment without judgment, have been found to reduce ADHD symptoms in children and adults. A 2022 study on a mindfulness program for children with ADHD and their parents found "partial beneficial effects" compared to a control group.10

7. Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback is a type of brain training that uses real-time feedback to help individuals regulate their brain activity. Studies suggest it can be an effective non-pharmacological treatment for ADHD, with some showing symptom reductions comparable to medication.11

8. Green Time

Spending time in nature has been linked to improved ADHD symptoms. A 2015 review found a "multiplicity of mechanisms by which contact with nature might promote health," including reducing stress and restoring attention in ADHD.12 Exercising outdoors appears to be especially beneficial.

9. Yoga and Tai Chi

Mind-body practices like yoga and tai chi show promise for reducing hyperactivity and inattention. A 2018 study found that a yoga program was associated with "modest improvements on an objective measure of attention" in children with ADHD.13 The researchers noted that yoga may help balance the autonomic nervous system, promoting a calmer state.

10. Music Therapy 

Listening to and playing music appears to have positive effects on attention and behavior in ADHD. A 2017 meta-analysis concluded that music therapy is "an effective tool" for treating children with ADHD, helping to reduce inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms.14

In conclusion, while medication remains the first-line conventional treatment for ADHD, the evidence supporting natural, integrative approaches is compelling and continues to grow. By incorporating nutritional modifications, targeted supplementation, mindfulness practices, and other lifestyle changes, individuals with ADHD have a wider range of options for optimizing their brain health and thriving with the condition. As with any treatment, it's important to consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner to develop a safe, individualized plan.

To learn more about natural approaches to ADHD, visit our database on the subject here.


References

1: Faraone SV, Sergeant J, Gillberg C, Biederman J. The worldwide prevalence of ADHD: is it an American condition? World Psychiatry. 2003 Jun;2(2):104-13. PMID: 16946911; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1525089/

2: Storebø OJ, Ramstad E, Krogh HB, et al. Methylphenidate for children and adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Nov 25;(11):CD009885. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009885.pub2. PMID: 26599576; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26599576/

3: San Mauro Martin I, Sanz Rojo S, González Cosano L, Conty de la Campa R, Garicano Vilar E, Blumenfeld Olivares JA. Impulsiveness in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder after an 8-week intervention with the Mediterranean diet and/or omega-3 fatty acids: A randomised clinical trial. Neurologia (Engl Ed). 2020 Oct;35(8):592-599. English, Spanish. doi: 10.1016/j.nrl.2019.12.005. Epub 2019 Dec 26. PMID: 31883771;  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31883771/

4: Bloch MH, Qawasmi A. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for the treatment of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptomatology: systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2011 Oct;50(10):991-1000. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2011.06.008. Epub 2011 Aug 12. PMID: 21961774; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21961774/

5: Schab DW, Trinh NH. Do artificial food colors promote hyperactivity in children with hyperactive syndromes? A meta-analysis of double-blind placebo-controlled trials. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2004 Dec;25(6):423-34. doi: 10.1097/00004703-200412000-00007. PMID: 15613992; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15613992/  

6: San Mauro Martín I, Garicano Vilar E, Collado Yurrutia L, Ciudad Cabañas MJ. Is gluten the great etiopathogenic agent of disease in the XXI century?. Neurologia. 2014 Dec;29(9):584. Spanish. doi: 10.1016/j.nrl.2013.02.014. Epub 2014 Nov 28. PMID: 25433099; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25433099/

7: Effatpanah M, Rezaei M, Effatpanah H, Effatpanah Z, Varkaneh HK, Mousavi SM, Fatahi S, Rinaldi G, Hashemi R. Magnesium status and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Res. 2019 Apr;274:228-234. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2019.02.043. Epub 2019 Feb 19. PMID: 30807974; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30807974/

8: Wang LJ, Yang CY, Kuo HC, Chou WJ, Tsai CS, Lee SY. The Gut Microbiota and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Clinical and Therapeutic Implications. J Pers Med. 2022 Feb 7;12(2):186. doi: 10.3390/jpm12020186. PMID: 35207715; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35207715/  

9: Kongkeaw C, Dilokthornsakul P, Thanarangsarit P, Limpeanchob N, Scholfield CN. Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials on cognitive effects of Bacopa monnieri extract. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014 Jan 10;151(1):528-35. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2013.11.008. Epub 2013 Nov 16. PMID: 24252493; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24252493/

10: Muratori P, Conversano C, Levantini V, Masi G, Milone A, Villani S, Bögels S, Gemignani A. Exploring the Efficacy of a Mindfulness Program for Boys With Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. J Atten Disord. 2022 Feb;26(3):481-494. doi: 10.1177/1087054720915256. Epub 2020 Apr 26. PMID: 32338110; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32338110/

11: Razoki B. Neurofeedback versus psychostimulants in the treatment of children and adolescents with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a systematic review. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2018 Oct 22;14:2905-2913. doi: 10.2147/NDT.S178839. PMID: 30425490; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30425490/

12: Kuo M. How might contact with nature promote human health? Promising mechanisms and a possible central pathway. Front Psychol. 2015 Aug 25;6:1093. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01093. PMID: 26379564; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26379564/  

13: Cohen SCL, Harvey DJ, Shields RH, Shields GS, Rashedi RN, Tancredi DJ, Angkustsiri K, Hansen RL, Schweitzer JB. Effects of Yoga on Attention, Impulsivity, and Hyperactivity in Preschool-Aged Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Symptoms. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2018 Apr;39(3):200-209. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000552. PMID: 29538185; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29538185/  

14: Catalá-López F, Hutton B, Núñez-Beltrán A, Page MJ, Ridao M, Macías Saint-Gerons D, Catalá MA, Tabarés-Seisdedos R, Moher D. The pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents: A systematic review with network meta-analyses of randomised trials. PLoS One. 2017 Jul 12;12(7):e0180355. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0180355. PMID: 28700715; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28700715/

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