Is using caffeine for ADHD symptom management an effective way to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
As a doctor who treats ADHD, and as the mother of a son with ADHD, I'm specifically interested in ADHD treatments that are effective and do not result in potentially harmful side effects.
Unfortunately, mainstream ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall that are derived from stimulants such as methylphenidates and amphetamines have drawbacks in terms of side effects.
Such side effects can include nausea, dizziness, headaches, insomnia, dependence, addiction, and withdrawal.
So is caffeine a more tolerable alternative to powerful stimulants such as Ritalin? Let's examine the evidence and evaluate the pros and cons.
A study conducted by M. Roth Leon at National-Louis University found that caffeine was more effective than no treatment in decreasing hyperactivity, impulsivity, and aggression in children with ADHD, but was not more effective than amphetamines at reducing ADHD symptoms.
The study posited that a combination of both amphetamines and ancillary caffeine doses may be more effective than amphetamines alone. However, they added that more research regarding this topic is required.
In addition, the May 2005 issue of The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology published a study that found caffeine improves spatial learning deficits in an animal model of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – the spontaneously hypertensive rat.
As a stimulant, caffeine causes the same debilitating side effects as Ritalin including nausea, insomnia, headaches, and more. In addition, ingesting stimulants creates a potential risk of dependence, addiction, and withdrawal. The greater the amount used, the greater the risk of dependence and addiction.
While some research suggests that caffeine in small amounts may help fight different types of cancers, other research indicates that there is a link between caffeine intake and breast cancer and fibroids in women.
Coffee, in particular, is very acidic and the oils from the coffee beans have been shown to increase cholesterol levels and potentially contribute to heart disease.
Further, according a University of Glasgow study, pregnant women are now advised to avoid caffeine during pregnancy due to potential health risks to the baby (Royal Society of Chemistry Journal). If pregnant women must consume caffeinated beverages, they advise ingesting no more than 200mg of caffeine per day. However, they found that the caffeinated beverages they studied (mostly coffees) commonly contained more than 300mg per drink.
Also, in my anecdotal clinical experience I observed that any benefits in terms of reducing ADHD symptoms with caffeine tend to be temporary and short-lived. As a result, using caffeine for ADHD symptom relief does not seem to be a viable, long-term solution.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that while using caffeine for ADHD may be shown to alleviate symptoms of ADHD, it is not as effective as ADHD medications, and results in side effects and other health risks.
As much as we love coffee, large amounts of caffeine are not good for us. It is certainly not a substance we should be providing to our children without serious consideration of the potential risks.
This isn't to condemn parents who are using caffeine for ADHD symptom relief, but in my clinical experience there are more safer and more effective ADHD treatment options.
Safe And Effective Alternatives To Caffeine
For those parents seeking ADHD treatments that are safe and non-addictive, there are lots of options. In my experience, my son and patients have responded positively to these ADD natural remedies and at-home behavioral programs such as the ADHD Breakthrough Program.Helpful Tips
Because every individual is different, there may be some trial and error necessary in order to discover which methods work best for you. However, there are bound to be some that you find effective at relieving ADHD symptoms.