When you think of ADHD, you may you have to take prescription medications to improve your ability to focus and function each day. It’s true that many people find relief from ADHD symptoms that way. But what if you want to avoid medications? There is evidence that alternative ADHD treatments may be beneficial for you. Here we highlight the top 5 supplements with solid evidence to help ADHD.
Our favorite supplements for ADHD
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
When it comes to alternative ADHD treatments through supplements, Omega 3s have the strongest evidence base for showing symptom improvement. Research has found that they can help improve symptoms of, "hyperactivity, impulsivity, attention, visual learning, word reading, and working/short-term memory."
You can find Omega-3 Fatty Acids naturally in some foods. This includes things like fish, seaweed, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, edamame, kidney beans, and soybean oil.
Most people get the Omega-3s that they need from the food they eat. However, there's a lot of promising research showing that with the correct ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, ADHD symptoms can be reduced.
A common symptom of adults with ADHD is difficulty with sleeping, which makes sense because the symptoms don't go away at night. You may struggle with falling asleep, restless sleep, staying asleep through the night, or waking up in the morning. No matter what, we know that poor sleep leads to exhaustion and lower executive functioning the next day.
Your body naturally produces melatonin from the pineal gland. This helps to control your sleep-wake cycle. If things are working as they should, your body would create higher levels of melatonin at night to help you sleep. However, you can also take melatonin as a supplement to promote positive and natural sleep cycles.
Melatonin increases naturally around sunset, telling your body that bedtime is coming in the next few hours. Taking 5-6mg of over-the-counter melatonin around 8-9pm (assuming you aim to sleep around 11pm-12am) has been shown to improve sleep quality and duration. Please remember melatonin can cause you to feel a little sleepy, so it’s best to avoid driving after taking it. Research has found that taking melatonin as a supplement can help you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep better overnight. This should also help you to wake up feeling more rested and ready to tackle the day in the morning.
“Worth a shot:” Supplements with moderate evidence for ADHD
These supplements can be helpful in ADHD patients, especially if they naturally have lower levels of these nutrients in their bodies.
It's rare for people living in the United States to be deficient in Zinc. However, it is possible if you have a poor diet or eat a vegetarian diet. Studies in children have found that those that had strong symptoms of ADHD tended to have lower levels of Zinc. Some research has shown there could be a positive connection between taking a Zinc supplement and experiencing a reduction in hyperactivity and impulsivity.
Similar to Zinc, research has shown that Iron supplements could be beneficial for you if you have naturally lower levels. Based on the research, those with ADHD have a higher likelihood of having low serum iron and ferritin levels. Increasing the levels in the body could help to alleviate your symptoms of hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. That said, there is such a thing as “too much iron.” If you are thinking to take iron supplements, we recommend you get your levels checked by a doctor both before and after so that you can measure the improvement and ensure you’re iron levels don’t become too high.
Ginseng has also been reported to improve cognitive function in those with ADHD. It's believed that the supplement helps by targeting hyperactivity and inattention.
Balancing ADHD function improvement with reduction of symptoms
The alternative ADHD treatments discussed above can help you experience improvement in symptoms. You may find that your ability to focus is improved. However, this does not necessarily mean that you'll have an improvement in functioning as well.
This is why it's important to focus on using a combination of treatments. Learning time management skills or putting organizational systems in place can help you improve your executive functioning. and experience results that you won't find with medication or alternative supplements alone. See our blog with ADHD expert Dr. Ramsay to learn more.