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Four Non-Prescription Remedies for ADHD

Clinical experience suggests diet changes and supplements can help.

Adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—and some parents of children with the condition—sometimes choose not to treat symptoms because they are wary of taking the stimulants methylphenidate (Ritalin) and dextroamphetamine and amphetamine (Adderall), the best-established treatment. Some 30 percent of patients develop side effects from ADHD medication.

But there are alternatives, including counseling, supplements, and adjusting your diet. Psychiatrist James Greenblatt, MD, author of Finally Focused, offers these ideas:

  • Favor protein, which promotes the production of a neurotransmitter that aids focus, dopamine. Cut back on sugar and carbs.
  • Favor food rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Deep-water fish like wild salmon and sardines have these valuable nutrients that feed the fat in your brain and elsewhere. Greenblatt recommends at least two servings a week of the omega-3 rich fish as well as 1 to 2 g daily of a high-quality fish or krill oil supplement.
  • Be sure you have enough magnesium in your diet, adding nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, fish, avocado, soy, bananas, and dark chocolate. You can also take a supplement, but magnesium-rich foods provide other benefits as well. Some say magnesium deficiencies are common and can aggravate concentration, mood, and sleeping problems.
  • Try taking oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs). Greenblatt recommends supplements that provide a combination of plant extracts that contain these biochemicals, such as pine bark, green tea, blueberry, and grape. He has seen patients with illegible handwriting begin to write legibly after taking OPCs.
  • Try low-dose lithium. People who tend to be irritable, impulsive, or agitated can benefit from low doses of this mineral, which is prescribed in high doses for bipolar disorder, Greenblatt says. He suggests talking to a doctor about taking 5 mg of lithium orotate a day. It is available in drug stores and health food stores.

These recommendations are based on clinical experience, not research. But as the symptoms of ADHD can build up, it may be worth it to try them.

If you do have ADHD and get relief, you might see shifts in your work, relationships, and self-esteem as your symptoms become less dramatic.

ADHD typically starts in children but can last into adulthood. Adults with ADHD may tend to get hyper-focused on certain tasks and lose track of the time and people around them. On other jobs, they rush through, muddling the details and skipping steps. Their calendars tend to get hectic—in part because they’re often restless and crave excitement, and because they’re scrambling to compensate for mistakes and oversights.

When the consequences add up and they run into career and relationship failures, they may judge themselves harshly and turn to alcohol and other drugs for comfort.

If this sounds like you or someone you love, doesn’t eating more fish and leafy greens and taking supplements seem more than worthwhile? And if they don’t help, maybe a prescription is worth a try, too? There’s also some evidence that riding a bike every day helps improve focus. That certainly won’t hurt either.

A version of this story appears on Your Care Everywhere.

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