ADHD and Complementary Health Approaches
According to a 2022 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, the estimated number of children aged 3–17 years ever diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is 6 million (9.8 percent) using data from 2016 to 2019. Although stimulant medications have been shown to be helpful for many children with ADHD, many adults and children use complementary health approaches such as omega-3 fatty acids, melatonin, herbs and other dietary supplements, special diets, neurofeedback, and several mind and body practices, including acupuncture and meditation to control ADHD symptoms. Many of these complementary health approaches have been studied for ADHD, but none has been conclusively shown to be more effective than conventional therapies.
This issue of the digest provides information on what the science says about some of these complementary approaches for ADHD.
For more information on ADHD, visit the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website.
What the Science Says:
ADHD and Complementary Health Approaches
Modality and Summary of Current Research
Current evidence is inconclusive on whether omega-3 fatty acids could provide any benefit for the symptoms of ADHD in children and adolescents. Some randomized controlled trials have conferred modest benefits in treating ADHD; however, omega-3 fatty acids are less efficacious than traditional stimulant medications for ADHD symptoms.
There is limited evidence from rigorous clinical trials on melatonin for sleep disorders among young people with ADHD. One recent review found that melatonin supplementation improves sleep delay as well as extends overall sleep duration in people with ADHD. However, there is insufficient data to make conclusions about the safety and effectiveness of long-term melatonin use, although one 2009 study evaluated the efficacy and safety of long-term (mean time up to 3.7 years) treatment of melatonin for children with ADHD and insomnia, and no serious adverse events were reported.
There is insufficient evidence on the efficacy and safety of Pycnogenol for the treatment of ADHD.
There is insufficient evidence to support the use of ginkgo biloba for ADHD symptoms. In a single study comparing ginkgo biloba with methylphenidate, ginkgo biloba was less effective than the conventional pharmacologic treatment.
Although frequently used to treat ADHD, current evidence suggests that St. John’s wort is no better than placebo for this condition.
There is insufficient evidence to draw any conclusions about the efficacy or safety of acupuncture for ADHD in children and adolescents.
There is not enough evidence to draw firm conclusions about the efficacy of meditation for ADHD. However, short-term aerobic exercise, including yoga, has shown small-to-moderate beneficial effects on core symptoms of ADHD such as attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
To date, evidence of the effectiveness of neurofeedback for ADHD is mixed; a growing evidence base shows moderate effectiveness for ADHD symptoms by parent report; however, the evidence is considerably less strong when considering teacher ratings, which are thought to be more effectively blinded.
Information for Your Patients
- 9 Things To Know About Complementary Health Approaches for ADHD for Children and Teens
- Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder at a Glance
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (NIMH)
- St. John’s Wort
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CDC)
- Omega-3 Supplements: In Depth
- Children and the Use of Complementary Health Approaches
- Melatonin: What You Need To Know
- Dietary and Herbal Supplements
NCCIH Clinical Digest is a service of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, NIH, DHHS. NCCIH Clinical Digest, a monthly e-newsletter, offers evidence-based information on complementary health approaches, including scientific literature searches, summaries of NCCIH-funded research, fact sheets for patients, and more.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health is dedicated to exploring complementary health products and practices in the context of rigorous science, training complementary health researchers, and disseminating authoritative information to the public and professionals. For additional information, call NCCIH’s Clearinghouse toll-free at 1-888-644-6226, or visit the NCCIH website at nccih.nih.gov. NCCIH is 1 of 27 institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health, the Federal focal point for medical research in the United States.
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