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Alternative Treatments for ADHD Backed by Science

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Have a child with ADHD? These alternative treatments for ADHD are backed by science.

If you are the parent of a child with ADHD, or even an adult struggling with attention problems, it is difficult to make a choice in how to treat the issue.

Some individuals believe that ADHD is not so much a “disorder” that requires medication as a learning difference that simply requires modification in social and academic approaches. Other parents are afraid that going the medical route will damage their child physiologically and make the child feel like something is “wrong” with them. Some parents believe that if a medication can fix the issue, then that is the right way to go.

However, recent studies have found that traditional ADHD medication comes with a host of unwanted side effects- including medication dependency, lethargy, mood swings, anxiety, weight gain, and even growth retardation. This has caused many parents (as well as adults with ADHD) to search for alternative treatment options for ADHD.

The treatment of ADHD is no longer considered as a one-size solution for all children or adults in most medical practices. The best way to address the issue is on an individual basis. Some individuals with ADHD may be able to see improvement taking natural methods alone. Some may see positive results from medication alone with minimal side effects.

However, in many cases, a variety of treatment methods will produce the most consistent results. If you are someone facing the issue of how to treat ADHD in yourself or a child in your care, discuss the following science-based alternative treatment options for ADHD with your caregiver so you can work together to develop the most comprehensive treatment plan with minimal psychological impact.


Homeopathy is the process of administering a diluted form of treatment based on the idea that “like heals like.” Although homeopathy as a whole has been shown to be generally ineffective in scientific studies, a few studies have pointed to homeopathy as effective in the treatment of ADHD if it is done on an individualized basis. The most well-known study was conducted by Swiss researchers in 2001.

In this study, 115 children with ADHD were prescribed homeopathic remedies based on their individual needs. Another group in the study was placed on Ritalin for three months. After the study period, 75 percent of the children in the homeopathic group responded to treatment. Only 65 percent of participants taking Ritalin responded to treatment. Children taking the homeopathic remedies saw a 55 percent improvement in symptoms while children in the Ritalin group only improved by 48 percent. Since this study was conducted on children who had specific remedies crafted specifically for them, the results may be difficult to recreate. If you choose the homeopathic remedy, make sure the ingredients are tailored specifically to the person who will be using them.

In a crossover study from 2005 published in the European Journal of Pediatrics, children were divided into two groups- one who used homeopathy and one who used placebo. After six weeks, the groups were switched. The study authors found that children taking the homeopathic remedy had improved CGI scores over children taking the placebo.

Popular Homeopathic Remedies for ADHD

Stramonium for reducing hyperactivity (can be dangerous in high doses)

Cina for calming aggression and improving attentiveness

Hyoscyamus for reducing hyperactivity

Verta alb for soothing the nerves and improving concentration

Arsen iod for controlling aggression

Since homeopathy can be dangerous at too-high doses, do not attempt to self-medicate using this method.

Behavioral Treatments

Behavior coaching and treatments can be quite effective at reducing the side effects of ADHD, according to data from the National Institute of Health. According to the largest study conducted on ADHD treatments by the National Institute of Mental Health (revised in 2009), behavior treatment combined with medication was the most effective treatment for ADHD.

Other studies show that children with ADHD suffer throughout life in relationships, school, and work because their brain functions differently from most other people. Addressing these problems from a therapy standpoint goes beyond simply providing the brain with missing nutrients or completing chemical connections. Even children who show completely reversed symptoms using medication or natural treatments will continue to benefit from ADHD behavioral therapy.

According to the National Institute of Health, how well a child with ADHD functions as an adult is dependant on how they were parented, how they get along with other children, and how well they did in school. In general, ADHD therapy addresses these three areas. Most therapists offer four types of behavioral therapy for children with ADHD:

Cognitive-Behavioral Interventions (CBI)

This therapy is designed to help children develop self control and control impulse behavior. Recent research, however, has not shown this therapy method to be particularly effective.

Clinical Behavior Therapy (CBT)

This therapy is more for caregivers than the child. This helps the caregivers to provide the right environment for a child with ADHD. One common CBT method offers rewards to children for positive behaviors.

Contingency Management (CM)

Contingency management is a highly specialized behavior treatment that is usually conducted in a special facility. CM therapy is similar to CBT therapy but more intensive.

Intensive Behavioral Treatments

Intensive behavioral treatments combine the two above treatments for maximum effectiveness. In some cases, children are sent to a camp-like training environment to learn impulse control and other techniques that help them apply behavior management on their own.

Gluten Elimination

In a 2011 study conducted by researchers from the Psychiatric Hospital of Rodewisch in Germany, it was found that there is a significant link between children with ADHD and children with celiac disease (an incompatibility with gluten). Of 67 children with ADHD, 10 also had celiac disease. Celiac disease not only causes pain and discomfort, but it can also prevent the effective absorption of nutrients from other foods.

Combined with ADHD, this means that children are lacking in vital nutrients that help the brain function properly. If a child has both ADHD and a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, eliminating gluten may also be able to reduce ADHD symptoms after the body is able to replenish its missing nutrients. Probiotics New research is just uncovering just how important it is to have the right bacteria present in the stomach.

Some studies have linked the right bacterial balance with improvement in mental health. Other studies have found that most of the serotonin in the body is produced and absorbed through the stomach. Low levels of serotonin are linked with a variety of mental health disorders, including depression and ADHD.

In 2003, a small study published in Alternative Medicine Review found that children treated with a combination of vitamins, minerals, and probiotics showed as much symptom improvement as children on Ritalin.

Vitamins and Supplements for ADHD

A variety of vitamins and supplements have been scientifically shown to improve symptoms in individuals with ADHD in a variety of studies. Web MD reports that the following supplements and vitamins may be most effective in alleviating some of the symptoms of ADHD:


Some studies have suggested that children with ADHD have naturally lower levels of zinc in their bodies, according to data from Web MD. Other studies have found that when children deficient in zinc were given zinc supplements, their ADHD symptoms were reduced. Zinc may help most with hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity.

Omega-3 Fats

Omega-3 fats (particularly from fish oil) have been scientifically proven to alleviate some symptoms of ADHD. This helps children by improving inattentiveness, improved clear thinking, benefited behavior, and reduced hyperactivity.

B Vitamins

B vitamins benefit the brain in multiple ways and may relieve some symptoms of ADHD. Vitamin B6 was shown to be particularly effective in reducing the symptoms of ADHD. Vitamins B12 and B9 are also beneficial for the brain.


According to multiple studies, children who supplement with ADHD show improvement in ADHD symptoms, including hyperactivity and distractibility. Other studies have shown that children with ADHD are often deficient in magnesium levels.


According to a 2012 study conducted on children with ADHD, most children in the study had abnormally low levels of GABA. The study authors suggested that since GABA helps regulate the short interval cortical inhibition (SICI) (which controls impulse control and movement), supplementing with GABA could be beneficial to children and adults with ADHD.

Avoid other ADHD Triggers

A variety of other issues have been linked with an increase in ADHD symptoms, such as food dyes, preservatives, and other food additives. However, there are less solid scientific studies that back the idea that all children with ADHD have the same sensitivities.

In fact, a study from 2010 published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that although food dyes are linked to an increase in ADHD symptoms in some children- it is not true across the board. This study theorized that it was “genes influencing the action of histamine” that influenced whether a child was sensitive to dye or not. For these fringe triggers, it is a good idea to keep a food journal to determine if a particular ingredient leads to worsening ADHD symptoms.

A Stable, Relaxed Schedule

Researchers have noted that regulated, stable schedules are helpful for individuals with ADHD. A routine can help someone with ADHD control their impulses and regulate their emotions throughout the day. Stress can have a negative effect on ADHD symptoms, so providing a stable, relaxed environment can go a long way toward reducing ADHD-related outbursts.

Experimental Therapy

New therapies for ADHD have recently been explored by researchers and medical professionals to help provide alternative treatments to traditional medications for ADHD. Two new techniques are biofeedback and brainwave biofeedback. With biofeedback, patients are trained to control stress and hyperactivity through the manipulation of brain wave patterns and body responses. Since the therapies are so new, however, their effectiveness is not yet proven.

Medication Not Always Necessary for ADHD

If you are the parent of a child with ADHD, or perhaps have the condition yourself, there are viable, researched alternatives to traditional medication. Whatever your reason for not wanting to medicate the condition, it is possible to control and benefit the condition through alternative means. Some individuals with ADHD may find that control through non-medicated treatments is enough to relieve symptoms, while others may find that a combination of medication and alternative treatments is best. If you are considering the treatment of ADHD without medication, discuss these alternative methods with your health care provider for the best, customized treatment plan for you.





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