Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a group of behavioural symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is a type of ADHD.

Common symptoms of ADHD include:

  • a short attention span
  • restlessness
  • being easily distracted
  • constant fidgeting

Children naturally have a tendency towards the kind of behaviour that ADHD causes, but this behaviour should not be confused with ADHD and a professional diagnosis is vital. ADHD is the most common behavioural disorder in the UK. It is estimated that the condition affects 3–9% of school-aged children and young people

Underlying mechanisms of factors that are associated with ADHD symptoms include:

  • Alterations in dopaminergic and noradrenergic transmission
  • Dysfunction of the reticular activating system
  • Diminished perfusion and cortical activity
  • The right hemisphere of the ADHD brain appears on functional magnetic resonance imaging to be, on average, 5% smaller than that of control groups, including a smaller right anterior frontal cortex and less white matter in the right frontal lobe,  which can impair sustained or focused attention.
  • Children with ADHD exhibit global cortical thinning, predominantly in prefrontal regions, associated with attentional mechanisms
  • Limited essential nutrients – brain maturation in children involves complex, rapid change and growth of nervous tissue and increasing research indicates that this requires adequate external intake of crucial essential nutrients to avoid possible compromise to optimal development. Increasing evidence suggests that these nutritional deficiencies are common in ADHD.

Conventional medication is psychostimulants (e.g. methylphenidate, dexamfetamine) and selective noradrenaline re-uptake inhibitors (e.g. atomoxetine) but these are not without significant side effects and a natural approach including psychological therapies, exercise, herbs and diet may be considered initially.

An herbal and dietary approach broadly aims to enhance cognition, attention, and impulse control via mechanisms such as:

  • Enhancement of catecholaminergic (noradrenaline and dopamine) transmitter functions such as noradrenaline-releasing action
  • Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitory activity
  • Stimulation of growth of axons and dendrites in human neuroblastoma cells
  • Enhancement of cerebral  oxygenation
  • GABA mimetic activity
  • Provision of essential nutrients
  • Antioxidant effects
  • Supporting healthy digestion, liver function and addressing  possible food intolerance:  e.g. additives, dairy, wheat or gluten, corn, chocolate, caffeine, eggs and citrus fruits may exacerbate symptoms.
  • Addressing possible nutritional deficiencies:  e.g. Iron, zinc, B vitamins, magnesium, essential fatty acids
  • Addressing impaired glucose metabolism:  Avoiding simple sugars and refined carbohydrates will aid glucose and insulin balance
  • Enhancement of sleep if required
  • Reduction of stress and the effects on the body
  • Addressing any allergies such as asthma, eczema, hay fever or migraine

There are many herbs that can be used to address the above issues and a recent 4 month randomised placebo controlled trial (Katz et al., 2010) found that a mix of herbs commonly use in herbal practice was effective in improving symptoms of ADHD in children:

The mix included white paeony (Paeonia alba), ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) , gotu kola (Centella asiatica), Spirulina, Bacopa Monieri and lemon balm (Mellissa officinalis).

  • Paeoniflorin (monoterpene glucoside) isolated from white paeony has demonstrated improved information transfer function of the  cholinergic neuron synapses, seems to increase noradrenaline- releasing action and enhances cerebral oxygenation.
  • Ashwaganda has been found to stimulate growth of axons and dendrites in human neuroblastoma cells, in addition to increasing acetylcholine receptor capacity and AChE inhibitory activity
  • Gotu kola has demonstrated increased neurite elongation, dendritic growth and improved learning and memory. It is especially high in B-vitamins (cofactors in the synthesis and functioning of serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine, as well as GABA).
  • Spirulina supplies essential fatty acids, B vitamins, folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin E, as well as potassium, calcium,  chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc, and all essential amino acids.

Caution: The information here is offered for its educational value only and should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent disease; please contact your health care practitioner.


Katz M, Levine AA, Kol-Degani H, Kav-Venaki L. (2010) A compound herbal preparation (CHP) in the treatment of children with ADHD: a randomized controlled trial. J Atten Disord. 14(3):281-91.