Q and A: Natural Treatment for ADHD

Health professionals answer readers questions about herbal treatments for ADHD.


St. John's Wort can help with calming the anxiety of depression.

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In every issue of Herbs for Health, professionals from a variety of health-care fields ­answer your questions about using medicinal herbs. Medical doctor Robert Rountree and herbalist Daniel Gagnon responded for this issue. 


My son has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Last year he was prescribed Ritalin with no real improvement and against my natural instincts. 

Are there herbal medications, vitamins, or diet recommendations that would help a child with ADHD?
K. S.
Laurel, Montana

The treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder with or without hyperactivity can be challenging, probably because no single cause for this problem has been identified. Your first step is to use an elimination diet to rule out sensitivities to refined carbohydrates, yeasts, salicylates, synthetic dyes, or food additives. Secondly, it’s important to screen for nutritional deficiencies of B vitamins, essential fatty acids, and trace elements. He should also be checked for thyroid disorders.

Herbs that might help include kava-kava for anxiety and agitation, St.-John’s-Wort if there is an element of depression, and gingko to improve brain metabolism. ­Follow the manufacturer’s recommended dosage guidelines. In addition, I frequently prescribe the supplement DMAE (dimethyl amino-ethanol), a chemical precursor to acetylcholine, one of the main neurotransmitters involved in attention, concentration, and memory. It is nontoxic and available in a liquid form, to be given in a dose of 100 to 300 mg daily. All of these supplements require several weeks of use before taking effect.
—Robert Rountree

In 1995, it was estimated that one out of every thirty children under twelve years old in America was taking the drug Ritalin. This fact highlights why the treatment of ADHD is becoming a major concern. The good news is that there are herbs that can help without side effects. Catnip (Nepeta cataria), damiana (Turnera diffusa), and kola nut (Cola nitida), taken singly or, ideally, in combination, are most helpful. Catnip helps calm down hyperactive children. Damiana helps ADHD children and adults alike concentrate and finish tasks at hand. Kola nut calms the hyperactive child’s nervous system. Children taking small amounts of kola nut are calm, relaxed, and focused [but you should be aware that kola nut contains caffeine]. A diet low in refined sugars, food additives, preservatives, and food colorants is also suggested for anyone diagnosed with ADHD. Consult your health-care provider for treatment guidance.
—Daniel Gagnon

Robert Rountree, M.D., is a physician at the Helios Health Center in Boulder, Colorado, co-author of Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child (Avery, 1994), and an advisory board member for the Herb Research Foundation. 

Daniel Gagnon is a medical herbalist living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild, vice chairman of the American Herbal Products Association, and owner of an herbal retail store in Santa Fe. 

The information offered in “Q & A” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.