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Advances in Nutritional Therapy for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

July 2005

By Laurie Barclay, MD

Herbs May Improve Brain Circulation

In those with ADHD, blood flow and energy metabolism are decreased in specific brain regions, notably the prefrontal cortex and striatum.3 While Ritalin® increases blood flow in these areas,73 certain herbs may achieve this benefit without dangerous side effects. These include ginseng, ginkgo biloba, ginger, and other “hemorheological” agents used in traditional Chinese medicine to dilate blood vessels and reduce blood viscosity.26,74

In a preliminary study, 36 children with ADHD were treated for four weeks with American ginseng (200 mg/day) and ginkgo biloba (50 mg/day). Between one third and three quarters of the children experienced reduced anxiety, shyness, social problems, hyperactivity, and/or impulsiveness.75

A few case studies suggest that some ADHD patients may benefit from pycnogenol, an extract of French maritime pine bark that is a potent antioxidant and supports blood vessel dilation.76 Sedating herbs such as passionflower, valerian, or lemon balm may help control symptoms of hyperactivity in children with ADHD.9

Combination Therapy May Hold the Key

Exciting advances in understanding the origins and mechanisms of ADHD suggest multiple strategies for treatment with nutritional supplements. ADHD is characterized by disrupted communication networks in the brain and local abnormalities in neurotransmitter systems, blood flow, and energy metabolism. Moreover, ADHD is aggravated by deficiencies of vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids.

Time and future research will tell which nutrients—and in which combinations and dosages—are best suited to treating ADHD symptoms. At present, omega-3 fatty acids, acetyl-L-carnitine, choline, B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, and herbal therapies that improve blood flow appear especially promising.


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