ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) is a brain disorder that causes inability to focus or pay attention and control , as well as causing the affected person to be restless and overactive, especially when it is not appropriate—the three hallmark types of symptoms are inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. ADHD is most commonly diagnosed in childhood but can often go unrecognized until adulthood, due to symptoms that are most commonly associated with ADHD such as inattention or impulsivity becoming more pronounced in early adulthood. ADHD cannot be cured, but there are treatments to reduce symptoms such as medication and therapy. The most used and recommended form of treatment for ADHD is stimulant medication. Stimulant medications boost the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain—two key neurotransmitters that are deficient in the brain of someone affected by ADHD—which helps to boost energy, memory and attentiveness.
The most commonly prescribed brand of stimulant medication for ADHD is Adderall—a mixture of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine salts. Adderall is an FDA-approved ADHD treatment medication for both children and adults. While Adderall can be very effective in improving symptoms of ADHD, such as attention, focus and reduced impulsivity, there are several negative short and long-term side effects of the medication that can be detrimental to the prescribed user—such as circulatory issues, high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems, insomnia, decreased appetite, mood swings and anxiety to name a few. Due to the increased neurotransmitter activity that Adderall and other stimulant medications provide, these stimulants can cause the user to depend on or abuse their prescription, leading to addiction—which is why Adderall and similar stimulant medications are categorized as Schedule II Controlled Substances and are regulated by health care providers and pharmacists.
In recent years, many people struggling with ADHD have been turning to natural alternatives to Adderall to boost focus and productivity in order to avoid dealing with the negative side effects and chemical dependence caused by Adderall and other stimulant medications. There are several natural alternatives to Adderall that can be used to improve focus, energy and mental clarity, such as vitamins and supplements, nootropics and regular exercise.
4 Natural Alternatives to Adderall
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
While it may seem contradictory to what many people believe about dieting and nutrition, but there are certain dietary fats that are very important for the body to function—these are known as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Two of the most important polyunsaturated fats to include in the diet are Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids—these are fats that must be obtained by the diet, as the body cannot make them on its own. Omega-3 Fatty Acids are a crucial part of human cell membranes and have a number of important benefits for the heart, brain and metabolism. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish and fish oil—it’s recommended to supplement the diet with Omega-3 supplements for those who do not regularly include fatty fish in their diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are very important for brain health, which is why supplementing the diet with Omega-3 can be used as a natural alternative to Adderall. There are studies that show that Omega-3 fish oil supplements can boost the body’s synthesis of dopamine—the key neurotransmitter that is deficient in ADHD—and help improve concentration.
Magnesium is an essential mineral needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body—it’s main functions include maintaining nerve and muscle function, supporting a healthy immune system, keeping the heartbeat steady and helping bones remain strong. It has also been found that magnesium plays an essential role in supporting and improving brain plasticity—the ability of the brain to change throughout time—known to be the foundation of learning and memory. Magnesium deficiencies in the body are more common than ever right now, due to the emergence of highly processed foods in our diets—it is estimated that approximately 50% of Americans are magnesium deficient. Magnesium deficiency can cause symptoms such as irritability, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, depression and anxiety—some of these symptoms are characteristic of ADHD, and so supplementing the diet with magnesium can help relieve some ADHD symptoms.
Nootropics: Caffeine & L-Theanine
The term “nootropics” is used to refer to any natural or synthetic substance that may have a positive impact on cognitive skills. Adderall and other stimulants are synthetic nootropics, but recently the use of natural nootropics such as caffeine and l-theanine has increased as a natural alternative way to manage ADHD symptoms. Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant and it is the drug of choice for most people to get a boost of energy and alertness—approximately 85% of the U.S. consumes at least one caffeinated beverage a day. However, like Adderall, caffeine intake can come with some negative side effects such as increased heart rate, anxiety, jitters, headaches and insomnia. These side effects, while unpleasant, are not as severe as the side effects that come with Adderall consumption and it is possible to mitigate these side effects by consuming caffeine with other nootropics—specifically L-Theanine. L-Theanine is an amino acid found naturally in green and black tea and it is known to promote relaxation without drowsiness, which is why green and black teas have less of a caffeine “crash” than coffee or energy drinks. L-Theanine is available in supplement form, and it has been found that combining caffeine and L-Theanine can improve cognitive performance and alertness when taken in a 1:2 ratio, respectively. The L-Theanine reduces the negative side effects of caffeine including increased heart rate, blood pressure and jitters, which allows the positive effects of caffeine to stand out—a 2013 study found that taking L-Theanine with caffeine helped a sample of young adults to focus better during demanding cognitive tasks.
We often forget (or may not know at all) that regular exercise doesn’t just work out our bodies—it works out our brains as well. It’s no coincidence that when you get back into a consistent workout routine, you have more energy, concentration and an overall more positive outlook. Consistent exercise can increase cognitive function—directly by reducing insulin resistance, inflammation, and stimulating the release of growth factors in the brain, and indirectly by improving mood and sleep and reducing stress and anxiety. Exercise causes the brain to release dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain—these are the neurotransmitters that are typically deficient in the brain of those affected by ADHD—which means that regular exercise can provide the brain with the same benefits as stimulant medications. Exercise also releases endorphins in the brain—chemicals that produce a euphoric feeling in the body and make us feel good, endorphins are the chemicals that produce the feeling of a “runner’s high.” Having a consistent exercise routine can be immensely helpful in managing ADHD symptoms and reduce the need for stimulant medication.
Living with ADHD can cause difficulties in everyday life due to the inability to stay focused—even simple tasks can seem daunting. So many people look for a quick fix to their problems these days, which is why stimulant medication is often portrayed as the one of the only treatments for ADHD. There are several natural alternatives to medication that can be used as a method of treatment before turning to stimulant medication including supplementing the diet with essential vitamins and nutrients such as Omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium, using nootropics for focus such as caffeine and L-Theanine and consistent exercise. Nourishing your body and brain from the inside out can go a long way in improving symptoms of ADHD, as well as overall health and wellness.