According to a national 2016 parent survey conducted by the CDC, approximately 6.1 million American children have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This equates to approximately 9.4% of the nation’s child population.
The survey also revealed that 62% of children with ADHD were using specific medication to manage the condition. Another 47% received behavioral treatment. Overall, 77% of the children were receiving some form of treatment. Furthermore, the overall prevalence of adult ADHD in the United States is 4.4%.
Common prescription medications available for ADHD include Ritalin and Adderall. These are considered ‘nootropics’ or ‘smart drugs’ designed to boost brain performance. However, there are several adverse side effects associated with them.
There is a growing trend towards ADHD nootropic stacks one can purchase over-the-counter or online. In theory, these products can support the same brain chemicals targeted by prescription medication. They also come with fewer negative side effects. This is why an increasing number of people seek help for child and adult ADHD with nootropics.
This guide looks into the practice of using so-called smart drugs to help improve ADHD symptoms. It analyses how these nootropics can help the brain and concludes with an overview of the best ADHD supplements on the market. First, however, let’s briefly outline what ADHD is.
What Is ADHD?
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that’s most prevalent in children but is also diagnosed in adults. It is a condition associated with executive function and attention in the brain. The brain’s prefrontal cortex directs thought, behavior, and feeling associated with working memory. These are basic cognitive abilities that comprise executive function, giving us the ability to:
- Monitor our actions
- Plan and organize
- Inhibit inappropriate thoughts and behaviors
- Regulate our attention
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), there are three types of ADHD:
- A combination of the two above
Symptoms of ADHD include:
- An inability to pay attention to details
- Problems remaining focused on tasks or activities such as reading and lectures
- Having difficulties remaining still
- Forgetfulness when it comes to completing tasks
- Lacking the capacity to remain organized
- Being consistently on the move
- Being unable to remain seated in the workplace or classroom
It is a challenging condition to diagnose because many of the symptoms are typical childhood behaviors. Also, there is no laboratory test available to diagnose ADHD.
The condition lasts a lifetime, although there are options such as prescription medications and nootropics available to help manage the symptoms.
What Causes ADHD?
At present, scientists have yet to determine the specific reasons why some people have ADHD. However, genetics likely play a major role. An estimated 75% of children with the condition have a relative with ADHD. Other potential factors include brain injury, premature birth, or the mother consuming alcohol, smoking, or experiencing extreme stress during the pregnancy.
Another hypothesis involves a trio of thought-regulating neurotransmitters, called catecholamines:
- Dopamine: Drives our reward/gratification and motivation functions
- Norepinephrine: Involved in the management of vigilance, attention, and sleep cycles
- Epinephrine: Stimulates the brain for quick and sharp thinking under stress
There is a belief that imbalanced catecholamine levels are associated with ADHD. This is because healthy levels of these neurotransmitters are essential for the proper use of the brain’s executive functions. These include working memory, attention, and impulse control. A disruption to the catecholamine system could impact mood, focus, decision-making, and other ADHD markers.
A disruption to the catecholamine system could impact mood, focus, decision-making, and other ADHD markers.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology in 2008 looked into catecholamine dysfunction in ADHD. The study’s author, Jefferson Prince, wrote that ADHD patients had depleted norepinephrine and dopamine, probably due to dysfunction of their transporter systems. Moreover, the efficacy of stimulant agents suggests that neurotransmitter abnormalities in ADHD are mainly catecholaminergic.
How Can Nootropics for ADHD Help?
Common prescription drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall influence the brain’s dopamine and norepinephrine production. More precisely, they increase the activity of these neurotransmitters by blocking their reabsorption into the brain’s neurons.
However, these drugs come with a series of possible side effects, including:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Skin discoloration
- Irregular heartbeat
The majority of ADHD drugs are stimulants, raising blood pressure and increasing the user’s heart rate. When referring to a review of the literature on methylphenidate-induced psychosis by Kraemer et al., Girard and Joober note that some of the literature “suggests that psychostimulants, the first line of treatment (for ADHD), can induce manic and psychotic symptoms.”
Therefore, an increasing number of ADHD patients lean towards complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Before we check out the best natural ADHD supplements, let’s find out more about their common ingredients.
What Are the Best Nootropics for ADHD?
There are dozens of options, and not all of them are backed by science. However, there is evidence that some drugs used as part of CAM have positive benefits for ADHD patients. Such nootropics could target dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters similarly to Ritalin and Adderall. However, they provide fewer adverse side effects. Let’s check out some of the best-known nootropics, along with any relevant studies.
The use of L-tyrosine for ADHD is growing due to its link with an improved attention span. L-tyrosine is required to synthesize dopamine and norepinephrine and could help with multitasking and stress resistance. It is one type of tyrosine, one of 20 non-essential amino acids, the building blocks for protein in the body. The body produces non-essential amino acids if an individual doesn’t get them from their diet.
However, research into L-tyrosine and ADHD is relatively limited. Indeed, most of the claims it can help with the condition revolve around a 1987 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. A dozen adults living with ADHD found that supplementing with L-tyrosine for two weeks helped improve their symptoms. However, they developed a tolerance by week six, and the effects leveled out by week eight.
There are a few studies on L-tyrosine having a positive effect on cognitive function, however. A 2015 study published in Neuropsychologia involved 22 adults using L-tyrosine. The researchers found that it could improve cognitive ability, like the capacity to adjust to changing circumstances.
However, most studies into L-tyrosine on cognitive function have been performed on individuals with neurotypical brains. Therefore, it is hard to say whether the benefits apply to ADHD patients.
Maritime Pine Bark Extract
Maritime pine bark extract offers a strong antioxidant complex. This includes oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs), compounds found in pine bark extracts, and grape seed. OPCs could help sustain norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. The pine tree contains pycnogenol, an antioxidant extract.
A study published in European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry in 2006 looked into the treatment of ADHD using pycnogenol from maritime pine bark. After a month of extract usage, children with ADHD showed reduced hyperactivity and improved visual-motoric coordination and concentration compared to those who used the placebo.
Citicoline is a brain chemical that naturally occurs in the body. It is also available in drug form and was originally used to help improve thinking, memory, and brain function in people recovering from strokes. This chemical is associated with brain energizing effects and could also support dopamine and norepinephrine.
While there is no available research involving the use of citicoline by ADHD patients, there are encouraging signs that its benefits could relate to such individuals. A study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition in 2014 looked into the effects of a natural citicoline-caffeine beverage.
The researchers found that those who consumed the drink exhibited faster maze learning times and reaction times on a continuous performance test. They also had better accuracy in terms of information processing speed and fewer errors in a Go No-Go task than placebo users. However, this study involved 60 adult participants who did not have ADHD.
One of the main benefits of L-theanine for ADHD is its ability to provide relaxation and aid sleep. A study published in Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics in 2011 found that sleep problems were among the most common ADHD comorbidities.
According to a study published in Pharmaceutical Biology in 2019, a mixture of L-Theanine and GABA helps decrease sleep latency while improving NREM sleep.
However, L-Theanine could also help reduce certain ADHD symptoms. A study published in Current Developments in Nutrition in 2019 found that a mixture of caffeine and L-Theanine decreased mind wandering and improved sustained attention, impulsivity, and cognition in children with ADHD.
In general, B-complex vitamins are linked with improved brain health. However, B6, in particular, could help improve attention as it helps the brain make melatonin, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
In a study published in Magnesium Research in 2006, researchers looked into the effect of a magnesium-vitamin B6 combination on 40 children with ADHD. They used 6 mg of magnesium per kilogram of body weight daily and 0.6mg/kg/day of vitamin B6 for at least eight weeks.
In almost every case, the Mg-B6 regimen significantly modified the clinical symptoms of the condition. For instance, there were improvements in school attendance and a reduction in hyperactivity and aggressiveness. Moreover, when the treatment ceased, clinical symptoms reappeared within a few weeks.
There are several other natural ADHD treatment options, including other minerals and nootropics. Many of them are covered in this study published in Adolescent Psychiatry in 2015. They include:
- Rhodiola rosea
- Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
- Ginkgo biloba
- Lion’s mane
Incidentally, the study above also found that mind-body practices such as yoga and mindfulness were useful tools for people with ADHD to calm their minds.
Now, let’s look at five of the best ADHD supplements on the market. Please note that none of them are clinically proven to ‘treat,’ ‘cure,’ ‘prevent,’ or ‘diagnose’ ADHD or any other medical condition.
What Are the Best ADHD Supplements?
The following five nootropics for ADHD contain a combination of the above natural ingredients.
1 – Mind Lab Pro
- Many of the nootropics in this product have some scientific research to back up claims
- Could help boost energy, improve mood, heighten focus, and much more
- Contains no fillers, artificial ingredients, or additives
- Comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee
- Possible side effects, including stomach discomfort
- More expensive than many of its competitors
According to the brand, it is the best all-in-one nootropic formula in the world. Opti Nutra created Mind Lab Pro to help enhance mood, memory, focus, concentration, motivation, and much more. It is all-natural, vegan-friendly, gluten-free, and contains non-GMO ingredients. Mind Lab Pro contains 11 brain-boosting ingredients. There are 60 capsules in a container, and the recommended serving size is two capsules, which contain the following:
- 5mg of vitamin B6
- 100mcg of vitamin B9
- 5mcg of vitamin B12
- 250mg of citicoline
- 500mg of organic lion’s mane mushroom
- 75mg of maritime pine bark extract
- 50mg of Rhodiola rosea
- 175mg of L-tyrosine
- 100mg of L-theanine
- 150mg of Bacopa Monnieri
- 100mg of phosphatidylserine
Users of Mind Lab Pro claim that it doesn’t overstimulate them, unlike many ADHD drugs. The product is third-party lab tested and free of filler and toxic ingredients. It truly is the gold standard of nootropic stacks.
2 – Qualia Mind
- Created by a reputable brand
- Outstanding 100-day money-back guarantee
- Natural ingredients
- Potential benefits include an energy boost and sharper memory
- Relatively expensive
- Involves consuming too many pills at once
- Some of the ingredients have little positive impact on cognitive function
Neurohacker Collective created Qualia Mind, and the brand has become a big name in the industry. There are 28 ingredients, including the following (with the amount per serving):
- 20mg of vitamin B6
- 300mg of Rhodiola rosea
- 200mg of taurine
- 200mg of L-theanine
- 150mg of Cognizin
- 50mg of ginkgo biloba
Overall, Qualia Mind is filled with high-quality products. The main downside is that users need to take seven pills at once! The brand recommends doing so with water on an empty stomach first thing in the morning. Also, users must consume the product for five consecutive days, followed by a two-day break. At around $120 for a 28-day supply, it is also extremely expensive, though fans of the product claim it is well worth it.
3 – Brain Powher
- A bespoke formula containing natural ingredients
- Easy to use with only two capsules a day
- Possible benefits include stress reduction and increased alertness
- Reasonable value for money
- Not as well-known as other nootropics brands yet
- Potentially contains too much caffeine for users sensitive to the substance
Powher is a health and fitness brand that caters to female customers. However, with 12 ingredients, Brain Powher, its nootropics formula, is useful regardless of gender. According to the brand, Brain Powher could help improve recall, focus, concentration, and mental acuity. A serving size is two capsules, and there are 60 capsules in total. Here are some of the ingredients with the amount per serving:
- 90mg of natural caffeine
- 100mg of ginkgo biloba extract
- 500mg of lion’s mane mushroom
- 250mg of ashwagandha extract
- 50mg of magnesium
It is inadvisable to use more than four capsules in 24 hours. However, it is possible to stack Brain Powher with the brand’s other supplements. As a bonus, it is about half the price of Qualia Mind for a month’s supply, though admittedly, it doesn’t contain as many ingredients.
4 – Elm & Rye Nootropics
- Uses sustainable ingredients
- The purity of the product is confirmed by third-party testing
- Possible benefits include increased stamina, productivity, and improved attention
- 30-day risk-free guarantee
- The brand isn’t particularly well-known, so there are fewer reviews than with other brands
- Rather expensive
Elm & Rye is dedicated to creating high-quality supplements to improve the lives of humanity. Its nootropics stack contains a proprietary blend of ingredients that the brand says can improve concentration and cognitive function. It contains 11 sustainably sourced ingredients. There are 60 capsules in a container, with a two-capsule serving size containing the following:
- Vitamins B3 and B6
- Gamma-aminobutyric acid
- Alpha GPC
- Bacopa monnieri extract
- Huperzine-A 1%
- Magnesium stearate, silicon dioxide
- Phosphatidylserine extract
Unlike other brands, Elm & Rye doesn’t make it easy to determine how much of each ingredient is in each capsule. It is also somewhat expensive, although those who subscribe to a monthly shipment receive 20% off.
5 – NooCube
- Contains all-natural ingredients
- Money-back guarantee
- Some claims have the backing of scientific research
- Free worldwide shipping
- Shipping can take several weeks depending on a customer’s location
- The brand doesn’t disclose dosage information on its site; users have to buy before they can see what’s inside
The NooCube brand sells a nootropic featuring ingredients backed by a certain degree of science. There are studies to support every ingredient added to this product. Like most nootropics, there are 60 capsules in a container, and a serving is two capsules. Here are some of the ingredients to expect in a NooCube serving:
- 250mg of Bacopa monnieri
- 20mg of huperzine A
- 50mg of alpha GPC
- 150mg of oat straw
- 175mg of cat’s claw
- 100mg of L-theanine
- 250mg of L-tyrosine
- 5mg of vinpocetine
- 14mcg of pterostilbene
In general, NooCube enjoys positive reviews, and the fact it ships globally is highly beneficial. While NooCube itself hasn’t been scientifically studied, many of its ingredients have. However, the product contains lower doses of nootropics than what was used in many of these studies.
While there are dozens, if not hundreds, of products available, we believe the above represent the best natural ADHD supplements on the market.
Final Thoughts on ADHD Nootropics
Research is very much ongoing, but there is evidence that nootropics for ADHD could have a beneficial effect. The side effects associated with common drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall have people searching for alternatives. The list of natural nootropics is surprisingly long, and it is perhaps worth considering one of the best ADHD supplements outlined above.
It is essential not to discontinue using prescribed ADHD medication without the explicit approval of a licensed physician.
However, ADHD patients should consult with a doctor before trying any nootropic. It is also essential not to discontinue using prescribed ADHD medication without the explicit approval of a licensed physician. Patients taking these supplements should also monitor side effects, interactions with other drugs, dosages, and how their body reacts to each supplement.