There is no cure for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, natural treatments may help people cope with the condition.

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Doctors typically diagnose ADHD in children who demonstrate hyperactive and impulsive behavior and have difficulty focusing.

However, ADHD can also affect adults. Where most people lose focus or act impulsively from time to time, a person with ADHD may have more extreme responses more often than others.

Doctors can prescribe medications for ADHD symptoms, but these drugs can have side effects, and they do not always work.

There are natural remedies that people can try, though these may have side effects. According to studies, half of all children with ADHD receive alternative treatments.

However, research indicates that no natural remedies are as effective as medication, behavioral therapies, or a combination of both.

In this article, we look at some complementary therapies and supplements that may help reduce or manage the symptoms of ADHD. We also look at the science behind them.

According to a 2014 review, some evidence supports the use of the following supplements for treating ADHD symptoms:

  • Melatonin: This may help reduce insomnia, but there is no evidence that it reduces ADHD symptoms.
  • Iron, zinc, and magnesium: These may help if a person has a deficiency in any of these, but more research is necessary to confirm the effectiveness of taking supplements.
  • Omega-3: Fish oils, for example, may help treat symptoms of ADHD, though the effect appears to be small.

The use of any medication, including supplements, carries some risk. In particular, children should not take any supplementary or complementary medications without their doctor’s approval.

Additionally, most supplements do not have approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As a result, there is no regulation or recommended dosages regarding their contents.

Therefore, people must always check with a doctor whether it is safe to use a supplement or other remedy and what dosage they should take.

Clinical trials have found that several herbal treatments may show promise for treating ADHD. These include:

  • French maritime pine bark extract: This plant-based material may increase visual-motor coordination and reduce hyperactivity and inattentiveness.
  • Ginseng: This Chinese herb may alleviate hyperactivity and inattentiveness.
  • Ningdong: Another Chinese remedy that may help reduce some ADHD symptoms.
  • Bacopa: This traditional Indian or Ayurvedic treatment derives from a plant also known as Brahmi or water hyssop. Studies have suggested it might reduce restlessness and improve self-control.

However, large-scale research studies are necessary to determine whether all these natural supplements and medicines are safe and effective.

For example, researchers also still need to know how much a person should take and whether the substances will interact with other medications.

With this in mind, people should check first with a doctor before using any supplements or natural medicines, especially if the treatment is for a child.

Some lifestyle practices and activities may help people with ADHD, but they need more scientific studies to confirm their effectiveness, according to an older review from 2012.

These may be more effective than some other methods if a parent or caregiver is looking to try them on a child, as they carry little risk.

According to the review, some of these lifestyle changes may show the greatest benefits when someone uses them alongside established treatments:

  • Biofeedback or neurofeedback: A professional uses specialist equipment that records brainwave patterns. The results can help a person understand how different activities and reactions affect them. The individual may then be able to adapt their behavior accordingly.
  • Exercise and relaxation: Yoga, massage, and meditation may help reduce some symptoms, and regular exercise of any kind can help people cope with stress. Parents or caregivers and children can do these activities together if they wish.
  • Connecting with nature: Some studies have suggested that children with ADHD find it easier to concentrate after spending time outdoors in a green space.

However, there is no current evidence about how long a person has to spend in the green space to see improvements or how long the improvements will last.

People have often suggested a link between sugar consumption and hyperactivity in children. Research in this area is limited, but a 2011 study that looked at the effects on primary school children in Korea does not support the theory.

A 2012 review concluded that an additive-free diet might help some people, but researchers note that this will only benefit selected patients and can be hard to implement.

The possible link between food additives or processed foods and ADHD remains controversial. A 2018 study looked at the dietary habits of nearly 15,000 children in China. The researchers found that those who followed a snack or processed food diet habit were more likely to have ADHD symptoms. They also discovered that those who followed a vegetarian diet were less likely to have symptoms.

While these diets may affect how often symptoms occur, there is no evidence that the diets themselves caused or improved symptoms.

However, eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits, whole grains, and vegetables can benefit everyone, including those children and adults with ADHD.

Creating systems for regular activities, such as getting ready for school, can help children with ADHD learn how to recognize and feel comfortable with routines.

Examples of systems might include:

  • organizing storage for toys and clothes
  • learning to use calendars, timetables, lists, and reminders
  • having regular times for going to bed and waking up

Some people believe that essential oils can help relieve or reduce the symptoms of ADHD. They include:

  • Lavender: An older Ph.D. study from the University of Minnesota suggested that lavender can help people sleep. However, there appears to be little further evidence to support this, although anecdotal reports claim it works.
  • Vetiver: Findings from 2016 noted that rats were better able to focus after inhaling vetiver, an essential oil. However, more research is necessary to see if the same applies to humans.
  • Rosemary: A 2012 study found that people had better scores for speed and accuracy in thinking activities after exposure to the aroma of rosemary oil.

However, people need to note the following safety guidance for those considering using essential oils:

  • Always speak with a doctor before using any essential oils, especially for children, to make sure the oil and the method of delivery are safe.
  • Always dilute an essential oil with a carrier oil. Ask a doctor what the concentration should be for an adult or a child, as these will be different.
  • Never apply an essential oil directly to the skin, as it can cause a reaction.
  • Never swallow an essential oil, as it can be toxic to the body.

Although research suggests that essential oils may have some health benefits, it is important to remember that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor or regulate the purity or quality of these. A person should talk with a healthcare professional before using essential oils, and they should be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. A person should always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.

Adults looking for further ways to cope with their ADHD may want to try the following:

  • seeking guidance or counseling from professionals to help organize and manage their lives better
  • combining medication with therapies that focused on trying to change behavior
  • talking with friends, family, and colleagues about their condition

In cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), therapists work with individuals to change how they think and behave. CBT has shown encouraging results in trials with adults.

Treatment for ADHD usually combines medication and behavioral therapies. And while some natural and lifestyle remedies can help, people with a diagnosis of the condition should follow their doctor’s instructions.

Supplements and natural remedies can affect the body just as well as prescription or over-the-counter medicines. However, these alternative treatments can have side effects and may interact with other drugs.

Before trying any new remedies, including supplements, people should speak with a doctor before stopping any existing medication.