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Nootropics for ADHD: Do They Really Work? A Comprehensive Guide

Did you know that traditional ADHD treatments only work for about 70% of patients? Nootropics are being explored as a promising alternative for managing ADHD symptoms. These powerful supplements have the potential to enhance cognitive functions through various mechanisms, like improving the brain's supply of oxygen and glucose. These potential benefits and evidenced-based effectiveness make them an exciting component in ADHD treatment.

What are nootropics and how do they work?

Nootropics are a category of products that act in the brain to boost cognitive function and brain performance. Commonly known as 'smart drugs, they are known to have the potential to improve processes like learning and memory, focus, and executive functions. They have gained popularity in recent years since people are looking for easy ways to boost their brain performance.

There is a huge array of different nootropic products. To make them easier to navigate, they are categorized into three groups:

  • Stimulant medication
  • Non-stimulant medication
  • Dietary supplements

Since the 1960s, stimulants have been the primary treatment for ADHD. Medications such as methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) and amphetamines (Adderall, Vyvanse) are effective in managing ADHD symptoms by altering key neurotransmitters in the brain, specifically dopamine and norepinephrine, which are typically low in people with ADHD.

However, non-stimulant medications are becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to stimulants. These include tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), alpha-2-adrenergic agonists. Non-stimulants increase the levels of norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain, improving brain function and performance. Although their effectiveness can vary, and they generally take longer to produce results.

In addition to these medications, alternative approaches such as supplements and herbal remedies may be beneficial for managing ADHD symptoms. Examples include omega-3 fatty acids and Ginkgo biloba, which have antioxidant properties and may support cognition and healthy brain function.

How do nootropics work for ADHD?

Nootropics' benefits lie in how they affect the brain. They improve the supply of glucose (sugar) and oxygen, promoting blood flow. Additionally, nootropics can cross the blood-brain barrier from the bloodstream, supporting the brain’s metabolism, and boost neurotransmitter levels. These benefits could be particularly significant for individuals with deficiencies in certain neurological functions, such as focus and attention.

Recent studies have explored the potential of nootropics to enhance cognitive functions in people with ADHD, showing promise in improving symptoms. However, further clinical trials are essential to substantiate efficacy and safety.

Prescription nootropics, like Adderall and Ritalin, are known to help with ADHD symptoms, reducing hyperactive and impulsive symptoms and boosting focus and attention. Various natural nootropics may also offer benefits for ADHD. For example, boosting concentration and cognitive performance (Bacopa monnieri) and calming the nervous system (valerian root and lemon balm).

Nootropic supplements: are they safe and effective?

While nootropic supplements are generally considered safe, there are some important things you need to remember before you start taking them.

Always talk to your doctor before trying any new product or supplement. There is an assumption that natural products are always safe, but there may be interactions with medications that can be dangerous. Your doctor will know whether or not nootropics are good for you.

Supplements are not regulated as strictly as medications. Natural supplements do not need FDA approval before being marketed, which means they can contain unlabeled or unwanted ingredients. The exception is new dietary ingredients, which must go through regulatory approval if they aren't already in the food supply. As a result, the quality of dietary supplements can vary widely. To ensure you're getting a high-quality product, look for third-party testing. This involves a company sending its products to an independent lab to verify quality and safety.

Despite their popularity, nootropics do come with the risk of some side effects. These can range from minor to more serious and can usually be remedied through changes in dosage.

Side effects of nootropics for ADHD

Prescription treatments for ADHD like stimulant medications can have the following side effects:

  • Blurry vision
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Circulation issues
  • Substance use disorder

Natural nootropics, while generally considered safer, still have side effects to be aware of. They can vary between products, but these are some most commonly seen across multiple supplements:

  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach ache and cramping

More serious adverse effects are rare but are found in some supplements and include:

  • Severe nausea
  • Severe allergic reactions and arrhythmia, irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures

Keep in mind that side effects can vary based on individual physiological responses and the specific nootropic that you're using. Some people will feel no side effects, while others may experience a few. Remember to talk to your doctor before trying any new medication or supplement.

The best nootropics for ADHD: separating fact from fiction

As we've discussed, stimulant nootropics are considered the most effective options for ADHD treatment, with Adderall and Ritalin being the most prescribed. However, there are concerns about the long-term effects on mental health and the risk of developing substance use disorders with these medications.

In addition to stimulants, numerous natural supplements may support ADHD symptoms. Emerging research indicates that they can benefit various aspects of cognition and brain function. Some of the most studied ingredients include Ginkgo biloba, Bacopa monnieri, ashwagandha, Rhodiola rosea, and ginseng. Research in humans is still limited, and further investigation is needed to explore the exact mechanisms and efficacy for ADHD symptoms.

How to choose the best nootropics for ADHD

When looking for the best nootropic for you and your ADHD symptoms, here are some important things to keep in mind:

  • Talk to your doctor. Even though natural nootropics are generally safe, they may interact with other medications you're taking. Consulting your doctor can help you avoid any negative side effects.
  • Look at the ingredients. Look for products with clean, natural ingredients that have evidence-based support for ADHD symptoms.
  • Third-party testing. Choose companies that use third-party testing, which guarantees the cleanest and highest-quality products. This testing is conducted by unbiased, independent organizations.
  • Check for cGMP and FDA compliance. The best quality products are manufactured using current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) and in FDA-approved facilities. This reduces the risks of contamination in the products.
  • Start slow. Begin with small doses to understand how nootropics work and feel in your body.

📝Healthnews editor's top picks

There are a variety of nootropic products available for ADHD. We highlight three that may offer support for ADHD symptoms.

1. Vyvamind — best nootropic for ADHD and enhanced performance

  • Immediate energy-boosting effects
  • May contribute to cognitive and physical performance
  • cGMP-approved manufacturing requirement

2. Mind Vitality — best nootropic to support focus in ADHD

Mind Vitality Focus
  • Contains natural adaptogens and brain vitamins
  • Ensures stress relief for focus, mental clarity, and brain health
  • Non-GMO, soy-free, and vegan

3. Performance Lab — best ADHD nootropic with minimal ingredients

  • 4 patented ingredients known to improve memory, focus, and mental clarity
  • Improves reaction times and performance
  • Made in the USA and UK in FDA-approved and cGMP-certified facilities

Natural approaches to ADHD management

For those seeking alternatives to prescription stimulant medications, natural approaches such as lifestyle and nutritional changes may help manage ADHD symptoms. It's important to note that natural remedies cannot replace the prescribed ADHD treatment, and it is vital to discuss with a doctor before implementing these into your daily routine.

Diet plays a crucial role in ADHD due to its potential impact on nutritional intake. A three-week study of school-aged children found that higher a intake of vegetable-based protein, minerals, and vitamins was linked to improved ADHD symptoms. On the other hand, poor eating patterns, like irregular meals, eating processed foods, and not eating fruits and vegetables, may negatively affect ADHD symptoms.

Increasing physical activity levels is another beneficial lifestyle change. Research suggests that exercise can significantly improve inattention and may also help with hyperactivity, impulsivity, emotional regulation, and behavioral issues, although this is less clear. While exercise benefits both adults and children, it appears to have a stronger effect on children. Different types of activities may impact different symptoms; for example, yoga and swimming can improve hyperactivity and impulsivity, whereas team sports are better for improving attention.

Supplements that help support ADHD:

  • Amino acids. These cellular building blocks directly affect neurotransmitters and can help rebalance low levels, enhancing brain function. Glycine, L-theanine, L-tyrosine, taurine, acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC), GABA, 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), and S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe) are potential complementary remedies for ADHD.
  • Minerals. Low levels of minerals like zinc, magnesium, calcium, and iron are linked to ADHD. These minerals are crucial for nutrient uptake and neurotransmitter function.
  • Vitamins. While not directly affecting ADHD, vitamins may help manage symptoms by supporting nutrient deficiencies from poor diets. The most relevant vitamins are vitamins C and B6.
  • Essential fatty acids. Both omega-3s and 6s are critical for brain cell structure and function and may play a role in ADHD symptoms. However, the research on the benefits is conflicting and needs further study.

Further information

Research has implied a link between oxidative stress and ADHD by causing cellular damage and affecting brain function. Antioxidant nootropics have shown significant benefits in decreasing symptoms and managing the condition. Some key nootropics are vitamin C, omega-3s and 6s, glutathione, and N-acetylecysteine (NAC).

Bacopa monnieri is a well-known herb in Indian traditional Ayurvedic medicine. It’s one of the most popular natural nootropics for ADHD due to its many beneficial effects such as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and enhanced learning and memory, which may be beneficial for people with ADHD. However, further clinical studies are vital to support these benefits.

Low levels of iron and zinc have been observed in patients with more severe symptoms. A comprehensive review of randomized clinical trials found that supplementing with zinc improves attention, teacher-reported ADHD symptoms, and hyperactive, impulsive, and social symptoms. The same review found that iron supplementation improved the general severity of ADHD.

Current pharmacological treatments for ADHD in stimulant and non-stimulant medications. While current medications are well-known and highly effective for many people with ADHD, there are suggestions that there is room for improvement. Long-term effects are unknown, and there’s limited research on directly comparing current treatments and the benefits of combination treatments. New medications like Prodrug (methylphenidate) and Viloxazine (originally used as an antidepressant) work slightly differently, providing another option for changing neurotransmitter levels and having control in managing symptoms.

Nootropics offer promising benefits for managing ADHD, providing a complementary approach to traditional treatments. They have shown the potential to enhance cognitive functions, improve focus and attention, and reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity. While research is ongoing, nootropics could become a valuable component of ADHD management, offering new hope for those seeking improved cognitive and behavioral outcomes.


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