ADD is not a clinical diagnosis. (Learn More) It is an acronym that is often used to describe a subtype of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
You cannot diagnose any mental health condition yourself, and a teacher at school cannot diagnose ADHD in children. In order to understand the nature of the problem, you should get a thorough professional assessment by a licensed mental health care professional. (Learn More)
Although prescription medications have the best outcome for treating all the different subtypes of ADHD, there are some potential at-home remedies. Some of the most useful ones come from a well-known psychiatrist. (Learn More) In addition, there are other holistic approaches you can try. (Learn More)
There are many different products advertised on the internet that claim to be miracle cures for ADHD. Be wary of them, and always consult with your physician before trying something. (Learn More)
What Is ADD?
ADD is an acronym for attention deficit disorder, which you may be surprised to learn is not a clinical diagnosis. ADD is an older acronym that is still used by some nonclinical personnel today to describe a variant of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), there are three subtypes of ADHD.
- ADHD, predominantly inattentive presentation: This means that the person displays mostly symptoms associated with paying attention and does not display significant impulsivity or hyperactivity. This is what people are referring to when they say ADD.
- ADHD, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive presentation: This means that the person mainly displays issues with hyperactivity and impulsivity, and few problems with attention.
- ADHD, combined presentation: This is when a person displays significant symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. This is what most people think of when they hear ADHD.
Even in a person diagnosed with the predominantly inattentive subtype of ADHD, there will be some signs of hyperactivity or impulsivity, but these may not be significant. People who are diagnosed with this subtype of ADHD have the best prognosis for treatment.
Get a Professional Assessment
Because all the subtypes of ADHD represent clinical diagnoses that can only be made by a licensed mental health clinician, you cannot diagnose ADHD in yourself. Your teacher or your child’s teacher cannot formally diagnose any form of ADHD. In order to formally diagnose ADHD and to fully understand how it is affecting you, get a thorough physical, psychological, and cognitive assessment.
There are a number of physical conditions that can produce ADHD-like symptoms, such as a thyroid problem, and various other psychiatric disorders can produce these symptoms as well. The best way to rule these out is through a formal assessment.
A cognitive assessment will assess strengths and weaknesses. It lays the basis for the treatment protocol. Typically, you will want to be assessed by a physician, usually a psychiatrist, and also by a psychologist or neuropsychologist. Only licensed professionals in these disciplines should perform these assessments.
Over-the-Counter or At-Home Remedies for ADD
The primary interventions for all subtypes of ADHD are medication and behavioral interventions like therapy or other nonmedical interventions. Some parents may wish to avoid using some of the medications for ADHD, such as stimulants like Ritalin (methylphenidate) or Adderall (dextroamphetamine and amphetamine), even though they have the best research support for their effectiveness.
A book by psychiatrist Dr. James Greenblatt offers some alternatives to these medications to help people who are diagnosed with mild forms of ADHD or the predominantly inattentive subtype of ADHD.
- Protein: A high-protein diet may be beneficial in promoting production of the neurotransmitter dopamine, the primary neurotransmitter affected by stimulant medications used to treat ADHD. Although placing someone on a high-protein diet will likely not effectively address severe issues with impulsivity and hyperactivity, it may help to improve focus. Try to cut back on sugar and carbohydrates, and eat more protein.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: There is some research to suggest that omega-3 fatty acids can be useful in addressing some of the symptoms of ADHD. Dr. Greenblatt suggests at least two servings a week of omega-3 from food sources like salmon or taking supplements.
- Magnesium: This mineral may be able to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with inattention. You can take supplements, or you can get plenty of magnesium through nuts, seeds, dark leafy green vegetables, bananas, fish, and dark chocolate.
- OPCs: Oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs) are a group of closely related chemical compounds that are believed to have medicinal benefits, although there is very little medical research evidence to support their use. Nonetheless, Dr. Greenblatt believes that they may have some benefit in addressing some of the symptoms of ADD. These can be found in herbal products like green tea and grapeseed.
- Lithium: This mineral is sometimes used to treat bipolar disorder, and Dr. Greenblatt thinks that small doses of lithium orotate (only 5 mg) might be helpful in treating symptoms of ADD. Although small doses of lithium orotate are available over the counter in health food stores and in some drugstores, talk to your physician before taking it.
Dr. Greenblatt admits that these potential over-the-counter treatments are not supported by research evidence, but he has observed some anecdotal evidence based on his own clinical experience to suggest that they may be useful.
Some other approaches may help to reduce symptoms of ADD.
- Avoid preservatives. Aim to avoid preservatives and artificial colorings in foods.
- Test for allergies. Mild allergic reactions like some food allergies may exacerbate issues with attention and concentration. Getting tested by an allergist may reveal potential allergies that may be contributing to the problems.
- Try therapy. Consider behavioral interventions. These can include forms of cognitive behavioral therapy to address issues with attention or other activities that can improve focus like biofeedback, yoga, or tai chi.
- Meditate. Meditation is a useful way to develop the ability to focus and concentrate.
- Look into parental therapy. Often, parents can learn to work with their children in a productive manner and enhance the child’s ability to focus.
You should be very wary of treatments that claim to “cure” ADHD. It is considered a lifelong disorder. Most people who are diagnosed with any form of ADHD will always have some symptoms and require ongoing treatment.
Be Wary of Herbal Supplements
It is quite easy to find companies trying to market the latest “cure” for ADHD in the form of some herbal supplement, diet, or vitamin. Be wary of these.
In most cases, herbal dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the products could be potentially dangerous. If you are taking medications, some of these products may interact poorly with your medications.
Research reviews of using herbal products and dietary supplements to treat psychiatric disorders and even other medical conditions most often find little or no effect for these products. Remember that most of these companies are simply trying to market a product.
Always discuss taking herbs, vitamins, or other similar products with your physician first.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition. (2013). American Psychiatric Association.
Mental Health Assessment for Diagnosing Mental Illness. (January 2018). WebMD.
ADHD Diet: Do Food Additives Cause Hyperactivity? (September 2017). Mayo Clinic.
Combining Parent and Child Training for Young Children With ADHD. (February 2011). Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.