Herbs and Supplements for Children with ADHD

Ritalin is not the only option when it comes to the ADHD! Parents across the country are considering natural therapies to help their children cope with attention disorders. But what are the best herbs and supplements to choose?  There is a bewildering array – with some of the most widely-used treatments below:


Ginseng. Ginseng is commonly used as a general tonic and immunity booster. It can also improve cognitive functions like memory and concentration, two things ADHD kids struggle with.  There is some scientific evidence to back this up: This study showed that when ADHD kids took a ginseng supplement, there was a decline in hyperactivity and an improvement in school/work performance.

Lemon Balm. Lemon balm, a member of the mint family, has a long history of use for its calming effect on the mind and body. It’s prescribed by naturopaths to relieve irritability, depression, anxiety, and nervousness.  It’s popularly used to treat ADHD-related insomnia.  However, there has been no official research to study its effectiveness.

Gotu Kola.  Gotu kola is high in B-complex vitamins, which are used to help a variety of cognitive issues and to decrease symptoms like short attention span, poor memory, depression, and anxiety (symptoms common to ADHD children).  However, there are no official studies as yet to validate these claims.

Gingko biloba. Another popular herb used to improve cognitive skills like memory and focus and to decrease the mental “fogginess,” gingko biloba helps ADHD children.  It’s also used to help treat anxiety and depression.  Again, there is at least some scientific evidence to confirm the claims.  This study demonstrates that kids on supplemental gingko biloba showed “significant improvement” in areas such as inattention, immaturity, and hyperactivity.


Zinc. Many ADHD kids are deficient in zinc, a mineral which plays an important role in overall brain health and the function of neurotransmitters.  Many researchers believe that zinc supplements improve ADHD behaviors. One study found that inattention was significantly improved when zinc was added to participants’ diets.

Fish Oil.  Fish oil is rich in the Omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to help improve overall brain health.  It’s one of the most popular supplements for ADHD, and in one study, ADHD kids who took fish oil supplements showed an increase in organizational abilities and other mental skills. The FDA has approved a prescription-strength fish oil supplement for ADHD treatment.

Magnesium. Magnesium is known as the “stress drug” and is widely used to treat issues like short attention spans, irritability, and confusion/mental fogginess.  Many ADHD kids have shown a magnesium deficiency, and some researchers suspect there might be a link between these two conditions.  One study – which gave kids a 200mg supplement daily – resulted in significantly less hyperactivity compared to the control group.

Melatonin. Although melatonin does not help with cognitive or behavioral symptoms associated with ADHD, it can help with ADHD-related insomnia.  And better sleep can help in general with better behavior. A study done on melatonin and sleep patterns in ADHD children found that melatonin was a “safe, inexpensive, and very effective treatment for sleep-wake cycle disorders”.

Vitamin B6.  Vitamin B6 is needed for the manufacture and function of neurotransmitters that regulate mood and brain function; a deficiency can cause short attention span, impaired short-term memory, and irritability. At least one study has found Vitamin B6 to help reduce these symptoms in ADHD kids.

Some Notes on Supplements

  • Never start your child on any supplement without consulting your doctor.  If your child is already on daily medications, there is always a chance of drug-herb interactions.
  • Also talk to your doctor about whether these natural supplements are better used on their own or in conjunction with the medications your child already takes.
  • It’s also a good idea to consult with a naturopathic doctor or other qualified practitioner to discuss what herbs or supplements would be right for your child’s individual needs.
  • Keep in mind that herbs and supplements are not regulated by the FDA in the same way as medications. There is no guarantee of the quality or dosage strength in the products that you buy. Discuss which name brands and products your naturopathic doctor feels are the best.  They can give you guidance before you make a purchase.
  • Before starting an herb or supplement, decide what specific behaviors you would like to see improved with your child.  Ask others, such as your child’s therapist or teacher, to help you observe and see if these behaviors improve. This will help evaluate a supplement’s effectiveness. 
  • Stop a supplement immediately if your child develops a rash or the sign of allergic reaction.

What natural therapies do you use for your child’s ADHD?

Tags : health   development   nutrition   supplements   ADHD   

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