Although there are many prescription medications to treat the symptoms of ADHD some parents opt to try some non-prescription remedies first. Supplements and herbal remedies are included in this realm of “natural treatments.” As do many parents of a child having special needs, I went through a phase of searching for vitamins and herbs to help my son. I am not a stranger to using supplements as I currently take SAM-e to treat my symptoms of depression and Rhodiola Rosea for anxiety. I think in some situations herbal remedies are worth a try but you have to understand the possible risks and especially when giving such substances to a child.
In this post we will talk about some of the precautions you need to know before giving your child a supplement. In addition I am going to tell you about three supplements we have tried and how they worked or did not work for my son. Lastly, I will provide some links to resources and recommendations from the experts as to which supplements show promise for treating ADHD symptoms in children.
Disclaimer: We are not recommending any supplement or herbal product for your child. Always discuss the decision to give your child a supplement or herbal product with your child’s doctor.
Before you give your child a supplement…
• Just because it is “natural” doesn't mean there won't be any side effects. You may not get a list on the bottle of any possible side effects primarily because they may be unknown.
• Most natural supplements are not FDA approved and this means that sometimes fillers are used which may be useless or even harmful additives. Unlike prescription medications that go through a rigorous safety and effectiveness evaluation, herbal remedies and supplements have no such evaluation. The safety and effectiveness is left up to the manufacturer.
• Due to the lack of scientific studies on many of these supplements, the possibility of drug interactions may be unknown. If your child is taking prescription drugs as well as supplements you may be brewing a dangerous cocktail of substances without knowing.
• The lack of regulations for supplements also might mean that the herbal product does not contain enough of the active ingredient to make it effective.
• Natural supplements may not be strong enough to help with your child’s ADHD symptoms and you could be losing valuable time when your child could be taking something more effective.
The bottom line is that you need to do your homework and research any supplement you are thinking of giving to your child. Not only that, you need to tell your child’s doctor what vitamins and supplements he or she is taking in addition to any prescription medications so that they can tell you (if they know) about any possible adverse interactions.
Three supplements we have tried:
• Planetary Formulas Calm Child
Who could resist? It says “calm child” as the name of the product. We tried this herbal remedy off and on for years. It comes in liquid syrup form or tablets. The primary “calming” ingredients include: Chamomile, lemon balm and catnip. This product is marketed for children with ADHD and is supposed to improve focus, calm nerves, and reduce irritability and hyperactivity.
My personal conclusion: Please know this was just my experience with my son but we did not see any major changes in behavior from him taking this herbal remedy. I can say that it worked a little to take the edge off but not all the time. There was some change, however, in the right direction so I felt it was worth the try. My experience seems to be consistent with the reviews given on this product.
• Valerian Super Calm (Herbs for Kids)
This is another herbal product marketed for children who are hyperactive or who have ADHD. You can mix this liquid formulation with water, juice, or other beverages. The primary ingredient is valerian root but it also contains chamomile and catnip. I would give this to my son before bed and due to the sedating effects of valerian; it would help him to go to sleep. The manufacturer does give a warning that this herbal product can cause excitability in some children.
My personal conclusion: This product seemed to work better for my son than the “Calm Child” formula but then again we were using the valerian super calm for a specific time period, bedtime. I felt it was worth the try.
• Melatonin (Source Naturals)
This supplement is used as a sleep aid. We use the sublingual peppermint tabs. It also comes in an orange flavor. Please note that the manufacturer’s warning states that melatonin is not for use for children or teenagers. However, in some cases, doctors do recommend this supplement for children as was the case for my son who has autism. Both my son’s pediatrician and pediatric neurologist gave us the okay to use melatonin to help my son get to sleep.
The National Institutes of Health Medline Plus has this to say about the use of melatonin for some children:
Taking melatonin by mouth is helpful for disturbed sleep-wake cycles in children and adolescents with mental retardation, autism, and other central nervous system disorders. Melatonin also appears to shorten the time it takes for children with developmental disabilities (cerebral palsy, autism, and mental retardation) to fall asleep.
My Personal Conclusion: Melatonin worked wonderfully for my son. He would be asleep within a half hour to 45 minutes of taking it. The only trouble is that melatonin gets you to sleep but doesn’t keep you asleep. So he still had some sporadic times when he would wake up in the middle of the night. It was no miracle cure but it was the best supplement for sleep that we have come across yet. Over time we found that he did not need it anymore as he was falling asleep on his own at an appropriate time. My son never experienced any adverse effects or withdrawal symptoms.
What does research say about the effectiveness of supplements to treat ADHD symptoms in children?
There is not a whole lot of research in this area as most studies tend to focus upon prescription medications to treat ADHD. However, I did find some interesting leads which show promise for using some types of herbal remedies and supplements to treat ADHD in children.
• According to The National Institutes of Health Medline Plus website an herbal product containing both ginkgo and ginseng may be beneficial for some children with ADHD:
There is preliminary evidence that a specific combination product (AD-fX, CV Technologies, Canada) containing ginkgo leaf extract, in combination with American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), might help improve ADHD symptoms such as anxiety, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness in 3 to 17 year-old children.
A 2001 study published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience validates this conclusion although I am not seeing any recent follow-up research using this product.
• The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database reports that there is not sufficient evidence to recommend most natural products for treating ADHD. However, they do state that there are some supplements which show promise for select patients and these include: Fish oil, zinc, iron, pyridoxine (Vitamin B-6) and ginkgo plus American ginseng. They warn that more research is needed to determine the long-term safety and effectiveness for using supplements to treat ADHD in children and adults.
• One herbal product which has been shown to have no effect on ADHD symptoms is St. John’s Wort. The National Institutes of Health cite a study which concluded that St. John's wort had no additional benefit beyond that of placebo for treating symptoms of ADHD.
We would like to hear from you now. Have you given your child supplements or herbal products in the hopes of decreasing your child’s symptoms of ADHD? Were any ineffective? Were there any which worked even a little bit? Tell us about your experience we are eager to hear your story.
Here are some additional resources so you can do your own research into which supplements may be beneficial for your child:
Health Central articles on supplements and herbal remedies: