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Alternative Treatment to Ritalin and Adderall: Chinese Herbs

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There are numerous medications and treatment options for children and adults with ADHD. Chinese herbs have been used to treat ADHD in children for thousands of years. Find out more about this unconventional treatment method and its effectiveness below.

According to the National Institute of Health, about 5 percent of children around the world suffer from some form of ADHD. Although the percentage doesn’t seem high, there are actually millions of children suffering from ADHD.

Recent studies have examined the difference between children with ADHD and children without the condition. The results were somewhat surprising. The studies found that children with ADHD had a cognitive delay of about 3 years. Brain cortex development is also delayed and there are some complications with the communication between the two halves of the brain.

Is ADHD Really Serious?

Although 5 percent or more of children suffer from ADHD, many people still do not recognize the condition as a legitimate medical condition. Many people consider ADHD a discipline issue- something that can be solved by better parenting. However, assumptions like this are dangerous, and a lack of concern about children with ADHD can lead to a variety of serious issues in the future.

According to the National Institute of Health, ADHD can have many difficulties throughout life, including difficulty in school, getting along with others, or completing work. If left untreated, ADHD can prevent a child from succeeding in life as an adult.

In fact, studies have shown that teens and adults with ADHD are more likely to have drug problems, be unemployed, get into car accidents, and have trouble forming long-term relationships. However, if a parent or other caregiver identifies the problem at a young age, a child is less likely to get into trouble as she ages.

Most children have one or more of three distinct ADHD types. The three types include:

ADHD Types
Distracted: Inability to concentrate, doesn’t respond to talking, forgetfulness, moving from task to task, difficulty organizing, losing items, daydreaming, confusion
Hyperactive: Fidgeting, running, difficulty sitting still, talking continually, engaging with every person in a room (even if the attention is unwanted)
Impulsive: Interrupts others, makes sudden movements, skips from task to task, doesn’t think about actions before starting them, makes inappropriate comments, has trouble waiting

One alternative treatment is Chinese herbal medicine, which may provide help for some children. Read more about Chinese herbs for ADHD below. Unfortunately, many of the conventional medical treatments for ADHD have side effects that can interfere with other aspects of a child’s life. However, conventional medical treatments like Adderall and Ritalin are not the only answer to helping a child with ADHD. There are many natural treatments available that have been scientifically proven to benefit children and adults with ADHD without many of the side effects of traditional medicine. 

The Trouble With Conventional Treatments

There are several conventional medications for ADHD that are used to help control impulsive behavior and help a child concentrate. The most commonly prescribed medications include Adderall, Ritalin, Strattera Concerta, Focalin, and Vyvanse. The main concern that most parents and caregivers have about these medications is that they appear to alter the brain chemistry of children.

While most of the effects are positive, certain side effects can be worrisome to parents. Some caregivers may be uncomfortable giving brain-altering medications to a child, particularly when the brain is going through active growth and development. Side effects most worrisome to parents are usually rare but can happen. Potential side effects include personality changes, suicidal thoughts, addiction to medication, and irritability.

How Medications Work

Popular ADHD medications, including Adderall and Ritalin, are stimulant medicines. These are generally effective in about 70 percent of cases, according to Web MD. Stimulant medications work by activating brain circuits that are responsible for improving attention and focus. This can help improve the concentration and focus of children that have ADHD. The medications do not cure the problem, and once a child stops taking the medication, ADHD symptoms return.

Children that do not respond to normal stimulant medications may be prescribed medications like Atomoxetine, antihypertensives to help address impulsive behavior or antidepressants. In some cases, these medications are more effective in treating ADHD symptoms.

Side Effects of ADHD Medication

Each form of medication comes with its own set of side effects. Side effects of each medication type are listed below:

Stimulants (Desoxyn, Vyvanse, Ritalin, Dexedrine, Focalin, and Focalin XR, Adderall): Basically, these stimulants keep dopamine and norepinephrine at the synapses stage of neurons for longer. Some stimulants also act on the cortex, which usually is delayed in development in children with ADHD. Common side effects include sleep trouble, mood swings, decreased appetite, tics, and personality changes. Some children may see hallucinations or experience other psychosis side effects.

Non-stimulant medications (Intuniv and Strattera): These medications work like antidepressants, but have been shown to also work in helping children with ADHD. The overall effect is the same as stimulant medications but in a more passive way. This means that life-long dependence on the medication is less likely. Non-stimulating medications have side effects that include nausea, low energy, difficulty with urination, depression, heart palpitations, aggression, and anxiety.

Tenex: This medication is a blood pressure medication, but it was also found to improve ADHD symptoms in some children. Some doctors prescribe this medication in place of stimulants or non-stimulant medications for ADHD. Side effects include constipation, dry mouth, mood changes, depression, low energy, fainting, and dizziness.

Chinese Herbs for ADHD

Due to the many side effects associated with ADHD, many parents and caregivers look for alternative treatments that have fewer side effects before resorting to medication. One possible treatment for ADHD that has been shown to be effective for some children with ADHD is Chinese herbal treatment.

In Chinese herbal treatment, a mixture of the following ingredients is ground together and taken in capsule form. Chinese herbs have fewer side effects and less risk of dependency than prescription ADHD medication. Many Chinese herbal formulas for ADHD contain the following ingredients:

Chinese Thorowax Root

This herb has many beneficial effects on the body. The herb is a root with a reddish color that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. The root has anti-inflammatory, liver protecting, cell stimulating, antibiotic, and sedative effects. For ADHD, the sedative effects of the root are the most beneficial. The sedative effects are mild but can help children with hyperactivity calm down.

Skullcap Root

Skullcap is also a mild sedative and also protects the nervous system. In many cases, skullcap is used to treat insomnia, but it is also used to treat nervous system disorders. Skullcap root can be effective in children with ADHD as it helps calm nerves and prevents hyperactivity.

Oriental Ginseng

Ginseng increases concentration, which is why it is part of many energy drinks. Ginseng also helps relieve stress and increases endurance. Ginseng can also improve oxygen flow to the brain, which can also help the brain develop at a normal pace.


Poria has been used in traditional Chinese remedies for thousands of years. The herb is used to protect the spleen, cleanse the body with antibacterial effects, improve digestion, and soothe the nerves. For children with ADHD, the nerve-soothing effects of Poria are the most beneficial.

Red Jujube

The jujube has many beneficial effects on the body. Jujube fruit is used to lower blood pressure, calm the nerves, and calm the mind. Jujubes have a mild sedative effect, which is beneficial in children with ADHD.

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo biloba improves blood flow to the brain, boosting the activity and growth there. Ginkgo can also improve the levels of amine neurotransmitter substances in the brain, which help the brain process intake in a more normal way. After extended use, ginkgo has a calming effect on the brain.

Studies on Chinese Herbs

Three main studies have looked at the effectiveness of traditional Chinese herbs and remedies for children with ADHD.

The first study was conducted in 1990 by the Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou College of TCM. The study looked at 100 children with ADHD between the ages of 7 and 14. Children were divided into Chinese medicine or Western medicine groups. 80 children were in the Chinese group. The Western group took Ritalin. Children took three courses of treatments lasting one month each. At the end of the study, 23 children in the Chinese group showed no ADHD symptoms, 10 had higher IQ scores, and 46 showed marked improvement. 11 children showed no benefit. The effective treatment rate for this study was 86 in the Chinese medicine group. The Western medicine group had a 90 percent effectiveness rate.

Another study conducted by the Shaanxi College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 1994 looked at 66 children with ADHD. This study had an effectiveness rate of nearly 85 percent. At the end of the study, children showed higher levels of norepinephrine (NE), cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), creatinine (Cr). dopamine (DA), and 3-4 dihydroxyphenylacetic acid (DOPAC).

A 1995 study conducted by the Affiliated Hospital of Shandong College of TCM looked at 100 children with ADHD. These children were treated using a liquid form of Chinese herbs. By the end of the study, children had better attention and higher grades. The effectiveness rate for this treatment was 94 percent.

Complementary Vitamins and Minerals

Chinese herbs can be taken in conjunction with other herbal treatments, vitamins, or minerals for ADHD.

Why would you want to offer more than simply Chinese herbs? Chinese herbs may not be an effective remedy for all children. Some children may respond to other treatment methods better.

Additionally, studies have shown that deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals could be responsible for ADHD in some children. If you can replace the missing vitamins and minerals, you can effectively cure your child’s ADHD symptoms. The best vitamins and minerals for children with ADHD are listed below:

Vitamin B6

The Department of Pediatry in France conducted a study on children with ADHD in 2004. The study looked at the possible link between a vitamin B6 and magnesium deficiency and the coloration to ADHD symptoms. Vitamin B6 is responsible for ensuring the nervous system functions properly, which means that a deficiency in vitamin B6 could cause hyperactivity in some children. During the study, children were given vitamin B6 and magnesium supplements for 24 weeks. Children improved inattention, stability, aggression, school work, and many other symptoms after just 1 month of treatment.


An iron deficiency could be responsible for hyperactivity in some children. According to some studies, iron levels were shown to be lower in many children with ADHD. Research indicates that iron deficiency is associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children. A 1997 study conducted by Felsenstein Medical Research Center in Israel showed that when children supplemented with iron for 30 days, they had improved scores on the ADHD test, the Conners Rating Scale for Parents.


Magnesium levels also tend to be lower in children with ADHD. Some studies have shown that up to 95 percent of children with ADHD have low magnesium levels. Magnesium was shown to benefit children with ADHD in the study listed above. Additionally, a 1997 study from Pomeranian Medical Academy in Poland found that children with ADHD that were given magnesium supplements for 6 months had decreased hyperactivity.


Zinc is another essential mineral for the brain which can help reduce ADHD symptoms. Karadeniz Technical University in Turkey found in 2004 that supplementing with zinc was able to reduce certain ADHD side effects like impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and socialization trouble.


Zinc supplements can deplete copper levels in the body, so it is important to also take copper to protect the body. Copper is also a beneficial mineral for children with ADHD. A 1994 study conducted in Poland found that many children with ADHD have low copper levels. Supplementing with zinc without adding copper may not be wise as copper levels tend to be low in children with ADHD already.

Alternative Supplements for ADHD

If you or your child suffers from ADHD, there are steps you can take to avoid undesirable side effects and control behavior. If you want to avoid the potentially dangerous side effects associated with conventional medications, you don’t have to suffer from ADHD symptoms. There are plenty of alternative treatment options that are as effective, and possibly more so, than conventional treatments.

If you or your child suffers from ADHD, Chinese herbal supplements combined with helpful vitamins and minerals can help you restore the balance of herbs, hormones, vitamins, and minerals in the body. With a properly balanced body, you will find that ADHD symptoms start to fade on their own without unwanted side effects. Within just a few months, you should start to see many ADHD symptoms disappear when taking herbal supplements for ADHD.





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