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Alternative Treatments for ADHD and ADD

Conventional ADHD drugs are increasing prescribed yet new warnings about their dangerous side effects are added to their labels yearly. While it may take years to fully determine the negative effect these stimulant drugs have on the brains and development of ADHD kids, you can take steps today and try alternative treatments for this condition. Such alternative remedies include proven herbs, vitamins, minerals and other natural supplement. Read on to find out which alternative remedies provide the best benefits for ADHD while causing little to no side effects.
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Understanding ADHD

Attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder is the most common neurobehavioral and developmental disorder affecting children. In about half of the kids affected, this disorder continues into adolescence and adulthood.

The symptoms of ADHD can present in 3 distinct forms:

  • Predominantly inattentive
  • Predominantly hyperactive and/or impulsive
  • Combination of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms

ADHD affects 3 – 5% of children globally and it can make learning difficult in school-aged children.

Furthermore, ADHD is commonly misdiagnosed because of the soft definitions of its symptoms and because of the overlap with other behavioral syndromes.

An accurate diagnosis of ADHD can be difficult for the untrained physician. In all, diagnosing ADHD relies on the subjective decision of the physician and reported symptoms from the parents of ADHD kids.

Key presentations of inattentive symptoms in children include:

  • Being easily distracted, forgetfulness and moving from task to task without completing them
  • Difficulty maintaining focus and quickly finding activities boring
  • Difficulty organizing and completing tasks
  • Losing the things needed to complete tasks
  • Daydreaming, not listening even when quiet, being easily confused and moving slowly

Hyperactivity symptoms include:

  • Fidgeting and squirming
  • Running around, playing with everything in sight and having trouble sitting down
  • Talking non-stop and rudely engaging everyone around

Impulsivity symptoms include:

  • Making inappropriate comments without restraints, acting without regards for consequences and showing bursts of emotion
  • Frequently interrupting other people
  • Impatience and difficulty waiting for turns

ADHD: Causes and Side Effects

The exact cause of ADHD remains unknown. However, scientists believe a number of factors can contribute to the appearance and progression of this disorder. It is most likely that multiple factors are involved in most cases of ADHD.

Some of the identified causative factors include specific inherited genes, brain injuries, sugar, food additives and environmental factors including heavy metal poisoning and harmful habits during pregnancy.

To treat ADHD, doctors usually prescribe stimulant drugs containing stimulants such as amphetamine and methamphetamine. Other active ingredients in common ADHD drugs include methylphenidate and atomextine.

The most popular ADHD drugs are Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, Focalin, Strattera and Vyvanse.

However, these conventional ADHD drugs are not without their side effects, and some of these can be serious. The side effects commonly reported for these drugs are irritability, anxiety, sleep disruption and reduced appetite.

Less common side effects include sudden tics, personality changes, suicidal thoughts and even an addictive potential for stimulants ADHD drugs.

Most parents with ADHD kids are concerned about these rather serious side effects, and they should be.

Every year, some concerned group of medical professionals advocate that the FDA add more warnings of new side effects to the labels of these drugs.

The concern that these drugs may be permanently altering the brain chemistry of kids is all the more important considering the brain goes through a period of rapid development during childhood.

Therefore, instead of conventional ADHD medications, there is a growing trend towards natural remedies in ADHD treatment. These alternative treatment options are usually safer and well-tolerated. They also treat some of the identified contributory factors to ADHD such as nutritional deficiencies and oxidative damage to the nerves.

This article discusses the most effective alternative treatment options for ADHD.

Herbs

Ginseng

Both American and Asian ginsengs are used in the treatment of ADHD in alternative medicines.

These two true ginseng species contain a class of phytochemicals known as ginsenosides. Ginsenosides are potent antioxidants and they have been shown to possess neuroprotective properties. This means that they can protect the nerves in the brain from oxidative damage that may cause some of the symptoms of ADHD.

However, more importantly, ginsenosides boost the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.

The stimulant ADHD drugs used in conventional treatment also work in this way but ginseng achieves the same thing without any of the side effects of these drugs.

In a 2001 study published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, researchers administered 200 mg of ginseng extract daily to a group of 36 ADHD kids over the course of 4 weeks.

The results showed that by the second week, ginseng was already improving ADHD symptoms.

Ginkgo

Ginkgo biloba is an herb with multiple medicinal uses. The two bioactive groups of phytochemicals in ginkgo are bilobalides and ginkgolides.

It is known to improve memory and mental focus. By a similar mechanism, it can also improve the symptoms of ADHD.

Ginkgo contains powerful antioxidants that can protect the brain against oxidative free radicals and prevent neurodegeneration. This herb also improves blood flow to the brain and, in this way, it supports brain health.

One specific effect of ginkgo in the brain that can help ADHD patients is the ability of the herb to block the reuptake of epinephrine and norepinephrine from the synaptic junctions between nerves. In this way, it acts like the stimulant ADHD drugs because it allows these neurotransmitters to act longer and help improve attention and concentration.

Gotu Kola

Gotu kola is another herb with stimulatory effect and none of the side effects of stimulant ADHD drugs.

It is most commonly combined with ginkgo. Gotu kola is known to improve cognitive function and boost memory. It is used in Ayurveda traditional medicine to treat neurodegenerative diseases.

Besides the triterpenes in gotu kola, it also contains essential nutrients such as vitamins B1, B2 and B6.

Gotu kola stimulates the central nervous system and it has been shown in different clinical studies to relieve the hyperactivity symptoms of ADHD. It also improves blood flow to the brain, reduces mental fatigue and anxiety while increasing attentiveness.

Bacopa

Bacopa monnieri is also known as Brahmi in Indian traditional medicine. It is known to boost neuronal transmission and to increase the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.

The most important active phytochemicals of bacopa are bacosides A and B.

These phytochemicals not only improve the transmission of impulses between neurons but they also repair the synapses between nerves as well as damaged neurons.

Bacopa extracts have been proven to improve memory and cognition in multiple studies. It is no wonder then that many traditional medicine practitioners regard this herb as the most important ADHD herb.

Bacopa is useful in ADHD treatment because it improves memory, mood, learning and mental focus.

Guarana

Guarana refers to the seed extract of a natural stimulant native to the Amazon forest.

Of the herbs discussed here, guarana most resembles ADHD stimulant drugs. It contains xanthine alkaloids such as caffeine, theophylline and theobromine.

The alkaloids in guarana not only boosts stamina and energy but they also reduce mental fatigue. Caffeine, for example, increases the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. At the doses in which it is supplied, it actually has a calming effect on hyperactive ADHD kids.

Theophylline also stimulates the central nervous system and it improves mental alertness. Theobromine, on the other hand, improves mood.

Therefore, all the medicinal effects of the alkaloids found in guarana can help improve different symptoms of ADHD.

Rhodiola

Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogen used to counter physical and mental stress. Most of the herb’s medicinal effects are due to two phytochemicals: rosavin and salidroside.

This herb can also improve memory and attention span. It stimulates the release of serotonin, norepinephrine and endorphins. While serotonin improves mood and endorphins are natural pain relievers, dopamine is central to ADHD symptoms.

Increasing dopamine levels especially in the prefrontal cortex has been shown to improve ADHD symptoms.

Other herbs

Other herbs used in the treatment of ADHD in traditional medicine include

  • lemon balm (relieves stress, anxiety and increases the levels of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), an important neurotransmitter in the brain)
  • valerian (also increases GABA levels)
  • kava kava (another anxiolytic that increases GABA levels)
  • skullcap (a daytime sedative that can reduce hyperactivity without causing drowsiness)
  • eleuthero (an adaptogen)
  • ashwagandha (also an adaptogen)

Vitamins, Minerals and Amino Acids

B Vitamins

The B vitamins are very important to health and they are involved in almost all the physiological and biochemical processes in the body.

The two most important B vitamins in the treatment of ADHD are vitamins B6 and B12.

Vitamin B6 deficiency produces symptoms resembling those of ADHD. This deficiency causes irritability, fatigue and short attention spans. This may be because vitamin B6 is required for the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine.

Given the importance of these neurotransmitters, it is no wonder then that vitamin B6 supplements are useful in the treatment of ADHD.

Vitamin B12 also fulfils the same roles as vitamin B6 with regards to ADHD. Its deficiency also causes ADHD-like symptoms and the vitamin can also boost neurotransmitter levels in the brain.

Antioxidant vitamins

The antioxidant vitamins include vitamins A, C and E. Although they are not very important in ADHD therapy, they can still provide some benefits.

By their antioxidant effects, these vitamins can protect the nerves and prevent neurodegeneration. They can, therefore, support normal brain functioning and the rapid development of the nervous system during childhood.

Zinc

Zinc deficiency can cause symptoms resembling the hyperactivity symptoms of ADHD. Therefore, zinc supplement can resolve hyperactivity and inattentiveness symptoms of ADHD.

Zinc is involved in the regulation of neurotransmitters especially dopamine which is the most important neurotransmitter in ADHD. In fact, zinc supplements are commonly recommended with methylphenidate, a standard ADHD drug, to improve the drug’s effect on dopamine levels in the brain.

Furthermore, studies have shown that zinc can improve information processing, organization and decision-making in ADHD kids.

Lastly, zinc influences the release of melatonin from the pineal gland. Melatonin is involved in the regulation of sleep and the formation of memory. It is also a natural supplement recommended in alternative treatment of ADHD.

Iron

Iron deficiency can cause fatigue as well as irritability and hyperactivity. Therefore, in the same way as zinc, iron supplements may improve ADHD symptoms.

However, iron also provides specific benefits for ADHD patients. Iron increases the activity of dopamine in the brain. It also protects the brain against the neurological damage caused by heavy metals by preventing these metals from crossing the blood-brain barrier.

Magnesium

Magnesium deficiency is another nutritional deficiency sharing symptoms with ADHD. It causes irritability, reduced attention span and mental confusion.

The roles of magnesium in the central nervous system are similar to those of zinc and iron discussed above: it is required in the production of essential neurotransmitters and it also protects the brain from damage caused by heavy metals.

L-Tyrosine

L-tyrosine is an amino acid and the precursor of the two most important neurotransmitters in ADHD (dopamine and norepinephrine).

Therefore, L-tyrosine supplement may increase the levels of these neurotransmitters in the brain and help ADHD patients maintain mental focus and control hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

Other Nutritional Supplements

Fish Oil and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil and omega-3 supplements are effective in the treatment of ADHD and ADD.

In one study published in the journal, European Neuropsychopharmacology in 2007, an omega-3 supplement was found to remarkably reduce the symptoms of ADHD.

Fish oil contains 4 times more omega-3 fatty acids than omega-6 fatty acids. This is the right ratio to benefit from both types of fatty acids. Fish oil has been shown to improve mental and organization skills in children. It can also reduce hyperactivity, antisocial behaviors and inattentiveness.

Phosphatidylserine

Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid made from omega-3 fatty acids and the amino acid, serine.

It increases neuronal transmission in the brain, and also the levels of dopamine and acetylcholine. The benefits of phosphatidylserine includes improving mood, learning, memory, cognition and relieving stress. 

Because of its diverse benefits to the brain, phosphatidylserine supplements are sometimes recommended as natural substitutes for ADHD drugs.

Melatonin

Melatonin is important to the maintenance of a normal sleep rhythm. It is prescribed for ADHD patients who are too hyperactive to sleep well.

Melatonin is also an antioxidant and since it can cross the blood-brain barrier, it can help protect the brain from damage caused free radicals and reactive oxygen species. The antioxidant effect of melatonin is even more powerful than that of vitamin C.

Sources


http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder/complete-index.shtml

http://www.chiro.org/nutrition/FULL/Suggested_ADHD_Supplement.html

http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/guide/vitamins-supplements-adhd

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