Treating ADHD Without Stimulants

Written by Dr. Robert Lowenstein MD

I often get questions by parents who prefer not to have their children prescribed a stimulant medication for ADHD. They ask whether there are alternatives to help reduce their child’s symptoms of inattention, over activity, impulsiveness, lack of focus, and irritability.

The gold standard for the treatment of ADHD symptoms has been a combination of stimulant medication and behavioral treatment, that have been proven to be the most effective by many research studies over the past 70 years. However, the answer is that there are complementary and alternative biomedical (CAM) treatments for ADHD,  which might be helpful. The scientific evidence for their effectiveness varies, and none should be tried without close collaboration with a physician or child psychiatrist to both confirm that a child truly has ADHD and to closely monitor their use for safety.

The alternatives that might be worth a try, despite lack of scientific study, include use of (1) Essential fatty acid supplementation (EPA, DHA, and GLA) or Omega-3 fatty acids, which can have other health benefits for the heart and brain. (2) RDI/RDA multivitamin supplementation could also be useful for children with appetite loss caused by use of a stimulant medication or children who are picky eaters; (3) Mineral supplementation (iron, zinc, magnesium) after their deficiency is proven;  and (4) Food Elimination diets (sugars, and dyes especially) which have had some reported value.  Other alternative treatments which might be of some benefit include (5) DMAE for milder forms of ADHD; (6) Carnitine, for inattention, and (7) Micronutrient supplementation to lower moodiness, and disruptiveness in children with ADHD.

All of these may in themselves have unwanted side effects. So, whatever is tried, close supervision by a child psychiatrist or pediatrician is required.

I welcome your feed back and personal experience with any of these.