A Review Of Supplements Which Claim To Improve ADHD Symptoms


Information to help you avoid scams and clever marketing

Brief disclaimer

I am not a medical professional. My areas of expertise are psychology and mental health, in particular ADHD and Autism. I have done extensive research on these topics, but the following is intended for informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice.

I am neither anti-supplement nor anti-medication, but I am pro-science and anti-quackery. I want people to find whatever works best for them, but want to help people avoid being fooled by clever marketing tactics and misinformation.

This is a list of the most commonly recommended vitamins and dietary supplements for treating ADHD symptoms. I have researched each one and provided a summary of the conclusions found in peer-reviewed literature.

Simply because something has not yet been proven effective, does not mean it isn’t, it just means the evidence isn’t there yet. It may arrive, it may not. However, understanding what Internet doctors and nutraceutical companies are trying to sell you is very important to avoid being scammed.

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Omega-3 fatty acids

  • A 2017 study offered preliminary evidence that Omega-3 polysaturated fatty acids may help to improve ADHD symptoms and cognitive performance in children and adolescents with ADHD.
  • The link between ADHD and Omega-3s is unknown, despite it being one of the most popular supplements recommended for children with ADHD.
  • More recent research review concluded that overall, findings were not statistically significant.

“There is little supportive evidence to validate the claim of omega-3 supplementation to reduce the degree of ADHD symptoms experienced by children and adolescents.” — (Abdullah et al., 2019).

L-tryptophan

  • No tryptophan, tyrosine, or phenylalanine abnormalities have been found in children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
  • No conclusive studies have determined whether l-tryptophan is effective in treating ADHD symptoms.

5-HTP

  • 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a chemical that the body makes from tryptophan. After tryptophan is converted into 5-HTP, the chemical is changed into another chemical called serotonin.
  • Some evidence shows that 5-HTP dietary supplements can help raise serotonin levels in the brain.
  • Since serotonin helps regulate mood and behavior, 5-HTP may have a positive effect on sleep, mood, anxiety, appetite, and pain sensation.
  • No conclusive studies have determined whether 5-HTP is effective in specifically treating ADHD symptoms.

Saffron

  • Saffron is a natural stimulant which grows in plant form, similar to coffee, but it does not contain caffeine.
  • Saffron is shown to be effective in treating hyperactivity symptoms, however the study making this claim was neither randomized nor blind, meaning patients were able to choose between treatments and the patients were aware of their selection.
  • Unfortunately, this severely limits that study’s validity because it does not control for the placebo effect and other reporting biases.

Inositol

  • One study showed inositol had only marginal effects in reducing depression symptoms.
  • Another found the documentation was too limited to draw any conclusions about the effect of inositol in the treatment of mental disorders.

Amino acid GABA

  • There is some preliminary evidence that GABA supplements may improve some ADHD symptoms, however studies completed thus far have been very small, thus they are difficult to generalize.
  • More research is needed.

Magnesium

  • Once again, there exists only preliminary evidence that magnesium supplements can help relieve some ADHD symptoms.
  • Studies were too small to conclude the same results would appear in the general population, and more research is needed.

Ginkgo

  • Several studies have demonstrated some benefit of Ginkgo supplements in improving ADHD symptoms, however all studies had between 25–60 participants.
  • Despite the initial promise, further research with larger sample sizes are needed.

Vinpocetine

  • There is no evidence whatsoever that vinpocetine helps with ADHD symptoms.
  • There is very little research as to its effects, despite signifiant claims about its benefits for memory, concentration, even hearing loss.
  • The only studies done have been focused on dementia and other forms of memory impairment.
  • These studies were all done in the 1990s and have small sample sizes, so again, more research is needed with more participants, and amongst different populations.

DL-phenylalanine (DLPA) and L-tryosine

  • No tryptophan, tyrosine, or phenylalanine abnormalities have been found in children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
  • The only research I found evaluating the efficacy of these supplements in treating mental health issues was a case study outline with only three patients, all of whom were prescribed various supplements.
  • The small sample size, in addition to introducing multiple treatments together, make it impossible to determine which supplement was responsible for any treatment benefits.

S-adenosyl-methionine (SAMe)

  • A 32-year-old uncontrolled study from 1990 showed transient improvements in Adult ADHD. This study included only 8 participants, all adult males, and no control group.

L-theanine

Holy basil

  • One study claimed significant relief in symptoms of anxiety, but there were only 33 participants.

Relora

  • Although there are many claims made as to the health benefits of this supplement, there is very little peer-reviewed research about it at all, let alone research on relora’s specific effects for those with ADHD.
  • Although popular herbal websites claim that relora helps to boost mood and reduce stress, there is no scientific evidence to support those claims.

Parting thoughts

I am neither anti-supplement nor anti-medication. I personally take medication for ADHD and anxiety and find it has greatly improved my quality of life.

My son takes medication as well as some vitamin supplements, with his pediatrician’s knowledge, figuring “it can’t hurt, might help.”

My intent here is only to encourage people to truly understand what they are purchasing and ingesting before doing so, especially when it comes to costly supplements, or natural products which could interfere with one’s medications.

A recent review concluded,

There’s little research that indicates that alternative medicine treatments can reduce ADHD symptoms.” 

(Patel et al., 2022)

If you are on medications, please talk to your healthcare provider prior to changing your treatments, as some natural products are contraindicated with some medications.

My theory is that, if someone has a vitamin or nutrient deficiency, then taking a supplement could certainly help. However, if we have adequate levels present in our bodies already, then it would seem unnecessary to artificially increase those levels.

Either way, if you feel a supplement is helping you, go for it. But please talk to a medical professional first, and please don’t break the bank to do it.

© Jillian Enright, Neurodiversity MB


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Acetaminophen Does Not Cause Autism Or ADHD


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References

Abdullah, M., Jowett, B., Whittaker, P.J., Patterson, L. (2019). The effectiveness of omega-3 supplementation in reducing ADHD associated symptoms in children as measured by the Conners’ rating scales: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 110, 64–73. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2018.12.002

Baza, F.E., AlShahawi, H.A., Zahra, S., AbdelHakim, R.A. (2016). Magnesium supplementation in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Egyptian Journal of Medical Human Genetics, 17(1), 63–70. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejmhg.2015.05.008

Berg, R.C., & Smedslund, G. (2011). Effect of Vitamins, Minerals and Other Dietary Supplements on Mental Health Symptoms for People with ADHD, Anxiety Disorders, Bipolar Disorder or Depression. Knowledge Centre for the Health Services at The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), Oslo, Norway. https://europepmc.org/article/med/29319966

Bergwerff, C. E., Luman, M., Blom, H. J., & Oosterlaan, J. (2016). No Tryptophan, Tyrosine and Phenylalanine Abnormalities in Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. PloS one, 11(3), e0151100. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0151100

Bhattacharyya, D.., Sur, T., Lyle, N., Jana, U., Debnath, P. (2011). A clinical study on the management of generalized anxiety disorder with Vaca (Acorus calamus). Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge. 10(4), 668–671.

Blasco-Fontecilla, H., Moyano-Ramírez, E., Méndez-González, O., Rodrigo-Yanguas, M., Martin-Moratinos, M., & Bella-Fernández, M. (2022). Effectivity of Saffron Extract (Saffr’Activ) on Treatment for Children and Adolescents with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A Clinical Effectivity Study. Nutrients, 14(19), 4046. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/nu14194046

Chang, J.C., Su, K.P., Mondelli, V., Pariante, C.M. (2018). Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Youths with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Clinical Trials and Biological Studies. Neuropsychopharmacology 43, 534–545. https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2017.160

Golsorkhi, H., Qorbani, M., Sabbaghzadegan, S., Dadmehr, M. (2022). Herbal medicines in the treatment of children and adolescents with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): An updated systematic review of clinical trials. Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine. https://doi.org/10.22038/ajp.2022.21115

Lyon, M. R., Kapoor, M. P., & Juneja, L. R. (2011). The effects of L-theanine (Suntheanine®) on objective sleep quality in boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Alternative medicine review : a journal of clinical therapeutic, 16(4), 348–354. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22214254

Mukai, T., Kishi, T., Matsuda, Y. and Iwata, N. (2014). A meta-analysis of inositol for depression and anxiety disorders. Human Psychopharmacology Clinical & Experimental, 29(1), 55–63. https://doi.org/10.1002/hup.2369

Novell, R., Esteba-Castillo, S., & Rodriguez, E. (2020). Efficacy and safety of a GABAergic drug (Gamalate® B6): effects on behavior and cognition in young adults with borderline-to-mild intellectual developmental disabilities and ADHD. Drugs in context, 9, 212601. https://doi.org/10.7573/dic.212601

Patel, D., Shah, M., Sharma, K., Tripathi, R., Shah, J. (2022). Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A recent review. European Journal of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, 8(4), 233–240. ISSN 2349–8870.

Pellow, J., Solomon, E. M., & Barnard, C. N. (2011). Complementary and alternative medical therapies for children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Alternative medicine review : a journal of clinical therapeutic, 16(4), 323–337. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22214252

Ross, K., & VanNortwick, M. (2022). Managing mood-related symptoms utilizing diet, targeted nutrient supplementation, and lifestyle changes: A case series. Explore, 18(5), 591–600. doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2021.09.006

Shekim, W. O., Antun, F., Hanna, G. L., McCracken, J. T., & Hess, E. B. (1990). S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM) in adults with ADHD, RS: preliminary results from an open trial. Psychopharmacology bulletin, 26(2), 249–253. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2236465/

Szatmári, S., & Whitehouse, P. (2003). Vinpocetine for cognitive impairment and dementia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 1. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD003119

Zepf, F.D., Landgraf, M., Biskup, C.S., Dahmen, B., Poustka, F., Wöckel, L., Stadler, C. (2013). No effect of acute tryptophan depletion on verbal declarative memory in young persons with ADHD. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavia, 128(2), 133–141. https://doi.org/10.1111/acps.12089

Published by Neurodiversity MB

Jillian has Child and Youth Work diploma as well as a BA in Psychology. Jillian worked on the front lines of Social Services agencies from 2003 - 2012. Jillian has taken numerous continuing education courses and has attended various workshops focused on supporting neurodiverse children, in particular children with ADHD.

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