Melatonin, Omega 3 & Dietary Supplements: ADHD Hype or Help?
Can melatonin, omega-3, dietary supplements, vitamins, and minerals really improve adult ADHD symptoms? Two experts separate the buzz from the science.
You’ve seen the ads for over-the-counter dietary supplements that promise to improve ADHD symptoms and wondered if you should try them. Supplements, including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, omega fatty acids, and plant extracts, come in the form of pills, gummies, powders, and liquids. Some people add supplements to an existing medication regimen; others take supplements in place of medication.
Before buying dietary or herbal supplements, ask your prescriber about possible risks or interactions with your current medications. If you are given the okay to try a supplement, first check the brand’s quality by visiting a site such as consumerlab.com. A product label might say something like “follows FDA good manufacturing practices,” however, the FDA does not have the authority to approve dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness.
It should also be noted that a label calling a product “natural” does not mean it is safe or risk-free. Some studies have found large variations in the concentration of a supplement, even in capsules taken from the same bottle. And some capsules have been found to contain none of the ingredients on the label and may even harbor substances that pose health risks. Some companies don’t follow the FDA’s guidance about making claims and correctly labeling supplements. A supplement could contain little to none of the listed ingredients, or it may have a component that could cause harm to certain people. 1, 2
Here is our take on supplements’ claims to improve ADHD symptoms.
In double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, the following supplements were ineffective in reducing the severity of inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive ADHD symptoms: kava, valerian root, St. John’s wort, and Ginkgo biloba. 3, 4, 5, 6 Worse, many herbal supplements impact the central nervous system. Side effects can include drowsiness, agitation, slowed breathing, confusion, and a lack of coordination. Herbal supplements can also affect the way your body absorbs medication.
Our Conclusion: The potential side effects of these herbal supplements outweigh the potential benefits. Make sure you disclose any use of herbal supplements to your prescriber.
People with ADHD may have a significantly lower level of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood than do those without ADHD. 7 Low omega-3 levels can produce ADHD-like symptoms, including inattention, lack of focus, mood swings, and working memory problems. Omega-3 and omega-6 supplements have been found to boost blood levels and moderately decrease the severity of ADHD symptoms. 8Omegas may improve neural efficiency, improving an individual’s overall cognitive performance. 9, 10
Omegas have potential side effects, as do all medications or supplements. Omegas can act as blood thinners and cause stomach upset. Make sure you consult with your prescriber before taking omegas or other supplements.
Our Conclusion: Omegas can augment (but not replace) ADHD medication with prescriber approval. Many foods, such as fatty fish, walnuts, almonds, flaxseed, eggs, and tofu contain high levels of omegas and can be part of a healthy diet.
Vitamins and Minerals
Results are mixed as to whether supplementing a diet with certain vitamins and minerals improves ADHD symptoms. One study found that multivitamins did not boost scores on an executive function performance task. 11Other studies have suggested that magnesium provides some benefits. 12Clearly, more research is needed. It’s important to note that, unlike water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins are not excreted in the urine, so high doses may lead to health risks.
Our Conclusion: If you are eating a generally healthy and balanced diet, you are most likely reaching your daily requirement of vitamins and minerals without supplements. However, there is likely little harm in taking an inexpensive multivitamin if you check with your prescriber first. If you are concerned about possible low vitamin B or D levels, ask your prescriber to order a blood test. When it comes to managing ADHD, we can’t recommend any specific vitamins or minerals at this time.
Melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland, helps your body get ready for sleep. People with ADHD tend to have inhibited melatonin release and more difficulty preparing their bodies for rest. 13Melatonin supplements are either made from the pineal glands of animals or are synthetically produced. They can come in tablet, liquid, or gummy form. A French study found melatonin to help adults with sleep disorders and comorbidities, such as ADHD. 14However, improvements in sleep from melatonin supplements may result from the placebo effect: If you think something might help you, it probably will.
Our Conclusion: Sleep is important for good cognitive functioning, so putting away electronic devices well before bedtime and establishing a routine can be helpful. Mindfulness or relaxation exercises can also help quiet a busy mind.
Bottom line: If you are considering taking any supplement, consult with your prescriber first and learn about potential side effects and drug interactions. If you decide to take a supplement, ensure it is of good quality. In numerous research studies, prescription medication was found to be much more effective than supplements in treating ADHD.
Melatonin, Omega-3, Dietary Supplements: Next Steps
- Download: Free Guide to the Top Vitamins and Supplements for ADHD
- Listen: “Non-Medical Interventions to Manage ADHD Symptoms”
- Learn: 6 Natural Supplements to Manage Symptoms
Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist and the author of Healing from Toxic Relationships: 10 Essential Steps to Recover from Gaslighting, Narcissism(#CommissionsEarned), and Emotional Abuse and Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People — and Break Free(#CommissionsEarned).
Ari Tuckman, Psy.D., C.S.T., is a psychologist, international speaker, and author of four books on ADHD, including More Attention, Less Deficit Success Strategies for People with ADHD(#CommissionsEarned), and Understand Your Brain, Get More Done: The ADHD Executive Functions Workbook(#CommissionsEarned).
#CommissionsEarned As an Amazon Associate, ADDitude earns a commission from qualifying purchases made by ADDitude readers on the affiliate links we share.
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