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New Remedies for ADHD

Claims about a new treatment can be difficult to resist. Who wouldn’t love to find a “miraculous” new treatment that would completely eradicate the symptoms of ADHD and involve only healthy, “natural” substances that appear in our ordinary diet? Yet the very terms that tap into your longing to use them to conquer this condition—terms such as cutting-edge, amazing, and revolutionary—should also serve as signals that it is time to take a hard look at the evidence that backs such claims up. Many of the proponents of these cures carry impressive initials after their names—many are “doctors” or “professors” of some kind. Many are sincere in their belief that they have found a major treatment or even a cure for this complex and often baffling disorder. Yet sincerity—even passionate belief—is not enough to render a treatment effective.

In reviewing the summaries of the popular ADHD-related theories and treatments described previously, you have seen how important it is to go beyond proponents’ claims—no matter how convincing or intuitively “right” they may seem—to examine the scientific research backing up those assertions. As you encounter news of new proposed treatments for ADHD, ask yourself the questions below, provided by CHADD. (See fact sheets at

Will it work for my child?

Suspect an unproven remedy if it

  • Claims it will work for everyone with ADHD and other health problems
  • Uses only case histories or testimonials as proof
  • Cites only one study as proof
  • Cites a study without a control (comparison) group

How safe is it?

Suspect an unproven remedy if it

  • Comes without directions for proper use
  • Does not list contents
  • Has no information or warnings about side effects
  • Is described as harmless or natural (Remember, most medication is developed from natural sources, but “natural” treatments may still be ineffective or harmful.

How is it promoted?

Suspect an unproven remedy if it

  • Claims it is based on a secret formula
  • Claims that it will work immediately and permanently for everyone with ADHD
  • Is described as “astonishing,” “miraculous,” or an “amazing breakthrough”
  • Claims it cures ADHD
  • Is available from only one source
  • Is promoted only through infomercials, self-promoting books, or by mail order
  • Claims that treatment is being suppressed or unfairly attacked by the medical establishment

Even when an alternative treatment has been shown to be potentially useful for specific symptoms or behaviors that have been targeted for your child, it is important to consider, and to discuss with your child’s pediatrician, whether it is more effective than already proven treatments, whether it may involve any uncomfortable or dangerous side effects or health hazards, how expensive it is, and how difficult it is for your family to implement. If your child’s pediatrician is not knowledgeable about the approach in question, you will need to do much of the research yourself through the avenues discussed previously.

Keep in mind that the first and most important step in choosing the best treatment for your child is obtaining a full and accurate diagnosis of his ADHD and any coexisting problems or conditions. A standard medical evaluation is also necessary to learn whether your child could benefit from special treatment for any nutritional, vision, hearing, or other problem. Standard treatments, such as stimulant medication and behavioral therapy, should always be considered as first line approaches for ADHD. If you, your child, and his treatment team prefer an alternative treatment, the scientific validity of the treatment and its appropriateness for your child needs to be carefully reviewed, analyzed, and discussed.

Pediatricians, like parents, have many different views of the role of complementary and alternative treatments in the treatment of children diagnosed with ADHD. Physicians can play a constructive role in helping families make these kinds of treatment choices by reviewing the stated goals or effects claimed for a given treatment, the state of evidence to support or discourage use of the treatment, and a review of known or potential side effects.

There are many categories of complementary and alternative treatments: those that have been found to be effective, those that have not been proven to be effective, those that have been shown to be ineffective, and those that can have dangerous effects or side effects. Common sense would lead to the approach of considering the use of proven treatments as the foundation of a sound plan, and then to consider treatments that are unproven, while avoiding treatments that can be dangerous.

Parents may find themselves using treatments that have been shown to be ineffective from time to time, and feel that they might be working, but remain unsure. If you choose to use some of these complementary treatments it can be very helpful to introduce only one new treatment at a time in a systematic way. One suggestion for introducing the treatment is to make a list of changes that you hope to see if the treatment is effective before you start it. Make the items on your list countable—for example, “James will go from 40% (his present baseline) missing assignments per week to 25%.” Also commit to the time frame in which you expect to see the change.

For supplements and dietary manipulations you should be able to see differences within a month or two. For expensive treatments you may need to specify the funds you are willing to commit and then calculate the time frame based on that funding. After the designated amount of time, if these goals are achieved, stop the treatment and see if the number of missing assignments returns to the baseline number. If the problem reoccurs start the treatment again and see if it improves again. Make sure that your own behavior remains neutral in this personal experiment so that your expectations do not alter the outcomes. Many of these complementary and alternative treatments can add structure, commitment, and hope to families’ lives even if they are not totally healing.

Last Updated
ADHD: What Every Parent Needs to Know (Copyright © 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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