If you live with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, you may have used a medication called Adderall to manage your symptoms. Adderall is a combination of two medications, amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, that work in combination as a brain stimulant to help you focus.
In October 2022, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported a shortage of Adderall that may last into 2023. If you are one of the millions of Americans who rely on this medication, news of the shortage may leave you concerned. What do you do if you can't fill your prescription? Are there any natural alternatives for Adderall that you can use?
The FDA recommends that you work with your healthcare provider to determine the best treatment option for you. But in the meantime, it might be helpful to understand some natural alternatives to Adderall that you can discuss with your doctor.
What Is ADHD?
People with ADHD are usually diagnosed as children and can have trouble paying attention, focusing on a task, sitting still, and taking extra risks. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 6 million American children were diagnosed with ADHD from 2016-2019. People experience ADHD in many different ways. Some have a harder time with focus, while others can't stop fidgeting.
Sometimes kids with ADHD daydream a lot or don't get along well with their peers. ADHD is not "bad behavior" that the child will grow out of or that can be disciplined away. It is a neurobehavioral disorder that continues into adulthood.
The Mayo Clinic explains that while hyperactivity may decrease in adults with ADHD, impulsiveness, restlessness, and difficulty paying attention may persist. These symptoms can lead to low-self esteem in adulthood and issues with relationships or job performance. The CDC tells us that ADHD is usually best treated with behavior therapy and medication if needed.
Natural Alternatives to Adderall
Adderall contains a mix of chemicals that get your brain fired up. These chemicals increase your focus and help you to control impulses. Natural alternatives to Adderall for adults can mimic this action, although much of the research supporting these supplements has been conducted on children.
There are a number of supplements that you'll see promoted for the treatment of ADHD. There is some evidence to support some, but not all, of the products you might see listed on popular websites. We do know that many of these products can try to correct nutrient imbalances in your body that may cause or add to your ADHD symptoms.
Citicoline, or choline, is a nutrient you usually get by eating certain foods, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This nutrient helps with memory, mood, and muscle use. It also helps to form the coating of your cells.
Most people don't get enough citicoline in their daily diet. You can get more choline by consuming foods such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, or cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, broccoli, or cauliflower). Some multivitamins contain choline and you can also buy supplements containing just choline.
Researchers have studied how choline affects the brain and have suggested that the nutrient might be considered in the treatment of ADHD, but the association hasn't been researched recently so more studies are needed to confirm this benefit.
The American Medical Association (AMA) confirms that choline has an effect on the brain, and suggests that taking citicoline when pregnant can decrease the chances of your child developing ADHD. However, more research is needed to prove this nutrient can treat ADHD or that it has benefits in adults.
Your body needs methionine to grow and repair itself. Like citicoline, this nutrient can be found in many foods. Products such as milk, cheese, yogurt (not frozen yogurt) and minced meat are most commonly associated with higher levels of methionine.
Methionine often appears on lists of supplements for ADHD, but scientific evidence supporting its use for ADHD is lacking. Current research on its use is sparse. One older study from 2005 found that methionine actually showed a decrease in cognitive function in children after taking it. But studies involving adults are lacking.
A more recent study published in Biomedical Reports found that methionine usually showed up at normal levels compared to other nutrients in children with ADHD. This result would suggest that not only will methionine do nothing to help ADHD symptoms; it could make them worse.
Low iron levels and magnesium levels in the blood have been connected to ADHD in children. Studies on zinc show conflicting results. Some show that people with ADHD have normal zinc levels, while others found low zinc levels associated with the condition.
Larger-scale research needs to be done to show mineral supplements could help with ADHD and that the benefits extend into adulthood. But making sure that you get enough of these minerals can be helpful for adults to maintain overall health and wellness.
In 2014, researchers found a connection between low vitamin B6 and ADHD. Study authors suggested that vitamin B6 treatments over the course of many years might be able to successfully address ADHD behavior without causing any serious side effects. Other research studies have suggested that vitamin B6 may be helpful for those with ADHD because of its ability to facilitate the production of serotonin, a hormone that acts as a mood stabilizer.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is your brain's number one go-to guy for sending messages to your body. Too little GABA causes slower messages from the brain, which sometimes can lead to ADHD. Now, low GABA doesn't always lead to ADHD and ADHD doesn't always mean low GABA. But the NIH reports that the two are connected.
GABA supplements have not been studied extensively. Interestingly, a 2017 study found that a drug similar to Adderall called methylphenidate caused an increase in GABA. Many GABA products are available to buy, but none have been proven through research.
Ginkgo biloba is a tree, and its extract is made from the leaves. You can find ginkgo in pill form or sold as tea. The FDA classifies it as a food, not a medication. Supplement companies generally advertise ginkgo for brain health and memory, but studies have not proven that it works.
One study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice found that ginkgo biloba taken alongside a prescription ADHD medication improved symptoms by 27%. Another study is going on currently that will be able to give a better picture of ginkgo biloba's effects on ADHD as well as its safety.
Pycnogenol is an extract made from the bark of a maritime pine tree. Pycnogenol is a brand name for the extract that is derived from maritime pine trees that grow in a particular region of France.
Maritime pine bark contains chemicals that are claimed to improve circulation, strengthen your immune system, slow down swelling, and help heal infections. But many people also believe that it can help with ADHD in adults or children.
Studies measuring how well Pycnogenol works to improve ADHD symptoms have gotten old. The latest example from 2006 did show improved symptoms by using this supplement. Another study was finished in 2020, but no results have been published.
Safety Tips for Natural ADHD Alternatives
The FDA does not hold supplements to the same standards as it does medications. Your ADHD medication that is prescribed by a healthcare provider goes through rigorous testing and spot-checking before it is packaged for your use. The FDA works to make sure each pill contains what its makers say it does.
However, with supplements, as long as the ingredients are considered safe, the FDA pretty much allows the companies to sell them without a lot of inspection, testing, or interference. Unfortunately, this can mean that supplements have a quality control problem.
Each tablet in a bottle may contain vastly different amounts of each ingredient. This means supplements can not only be ineffective, but in some cases, unsafe. The good news is you can check up on companies to make sure you buy the best product possible.
Third-party companies conduct quality control experiments on supplements and publish their findings for consumers. As a part of your supplement shopping, make sure to check around sites like Consumerlab, Labdoor, or NSF to see your supplement's report card.
You can do even more research at the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Always speak with your healthcare provider before starting any new medication or supplement. Some supplements cause interactions with medications, and your provider can help you manage those risks.