Non-medication Treatments are Widely Used to Treat ADHD but Research Findings are Inconsistent

Many individuals diagnosed with ADHD use CAM therapies

Many individuals diagnosed with ADHD use alternative therapies alone or together with stimulants or other prescription medications. Growing concerns about inappropriate prescribing or over-prescribing by physicians of stimulant medications and incomplete understanding of risks associated with their long-term use have led to increasing acceptance of many complementary and alternative (CAM) therapies.

Surveys suggest that between 12 and 68% of children diagnosed with ADHD use CAM therapies largely out of parental concerns over safety of prescription medications. Over half of parents of children diagnosed with ADHD treat their children’s symptoms using one or more CAM therapies, including vitamins, dietary changes and expressive therapies, but few disclose this to their child’s pediatrician. However, when any herbal product or other natural supplement is used to treat ADHD it is regarded as the primary treatment over 80% of the time.

Uneven research findings support CAM treatments of ADHD

Most CAM therapies for ADHD are supported by limited research findings. However, a systematic review of clinical trials on herbal and nutritional interventions for ADHD found good support for zinc, iron, Pinus marinus (French maritime pine bark), and a Chinese herbal formula (Ningdong); and inconsistent findings for omega-3s, and l-acetyl carnitine. Limited findings from clinical trials on Bacopa monniera (brahmi) and Piper methysticum (kava) call for more research on these two herbals. The most appropriate CAM and integrative treatment strategies for ADHD depend on the subtype of ADHD that is being addressed, symptom severity, previous treatment outcomes using conventional pharmacologic treatments or CAM therapies, side effects, co-occurring psychiatric or medical problems, patient preferences, the availability of qualified CAM practitioners and access to reputable brands of specific natural supplements.

Future blog posts in this series will review the evidence for widely used CAM therapies used to treat ADHD. A concise review of non-pharmacologic CAM therapies used to treat symptoms of ADHD can be found in my e-book ‘Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: The Integrative Mental Health Solution.”

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