I recently saw an interesting statistic reporting more than 50% of parents use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to treat their children’s ADHD. Many parents of ADHD children and adults with ADHD opt to combine conventional treatments, such as stimulant medication, with CAM while others prefer to use nonpharmacological therapies alone. Although most nonpharmacological interventions have limited data to support their benefit, 80% of patients who use natural products consider these to be their primary treatment modality. Yet few disclose this information to their treating physician. If you are using any alternative therapies I would urge you to discuss these with your doctor. The goal is to promote optimal integrative treatment and avoid any potential pitfalls.
Given the frequent use of CAM, I thought it would be helpful to review the common nonpharmacological treatment options for ADHD. Currently the most popular nonconventional ADHD therapies are as follows: dietary changes, herbal supplements, trace elements/vitamins, neurofeedback, essential fatty acids (EFA’s), and yoga/massage for ADHD.
In my experience complimentary and alternative treatments can be safely and effectively integrated with conventional approaches to treating ADHD. Despite the limited data, nonpharmacological treatments have indeed shown some benefits. For example in one research study using dietary changes to treat ADHD, 75% of children showed improvement in their symptoms when food colorings and additives were removed from their diet. Another study showed children and adolescents with low blood levels of ferritin (the storage form of iron in the body) experienced higher rates of ADHD-type symptoms, which improved with taking 80 mg per day of iron. More specifically the kids hyperactive and impulsive symptoms improved with the iron supplementation, but their inattentive symptoms did not.
In a separate small study, ADHD children practicing yoga demonstrated improvements in their symptoms over time compared to the group of ADHD children who did conventional exercise. In support of the argument for combined treatment, children who continued to take simulant medication simultaneously while practicing yoga showed the greatest benefit.
In summary, an integrative care approach – combining conventional with nonconventional therapies – may offer the best potential outcomes for those with ADHD. I encourage patients to talk with their doctors about all treatment options. It is important to inform your treatment providers of any and all interventions you are utilizing (or wish to utilize) so that safe and appropriate care can be implemented and the greatest benefit received.