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The Link Between ADHD & Caffeine

By Amanda Lynch ; Updated August 14, 2017

ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, has some possible connections to caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant, and ADHD is often counterintuitively treated with stimulant medications. Some researchers have also wondered about a connection between the hyperactivity component of ADHD and caffeine consumption. Further, a few studies have attempted to demonstrate a link between a child's ADHD diagnosis and the amount of caffeine consumed by his mother during pregnancy.

ADHD and Stimulants

Treating ADHD most often involves prescription stimulants. Conversely to how stimulants work in people who do not have ADHD, stimulants seem to provide a calming effect in people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The stimulants may achieve this by helping to balance neurotransmitters, chemicals in the brain that regulate behavior. By balancing these chemicals, stimulants help people with ADHD control symptoms like impulsivity, inability to focus and hyperactivity.

Stimulant drugs are available in short-duration doses that last about four hours, and longer-duration preparations that last from six to 12 hours. The right drug for you depends on your individual situation. Both preparations have possible side effects, including weight loss, a racing heart, inability to sleep and decreased appetite. People with a history of cardiac issues may be at risk for more serious side effects, so your health-care provider will carefully screen you if you have any history of cardiac irregularities.

Caffeine Consumption During Pregnancy

Currently, experts believe that ADHD has a strong genetic component and is therefore inherited rather than developing from environmental factors. Still, scientists have studied other possible elements that may contribute to this condition. In an article published in the June 2003 issue of "American Journal of Psychiatry," researchers undertook a thorough review of past studies focused on pregnant women's lifestyle choices and the subsequent number of diagnoses of ADHD in their children. The review focused on cigarette smoking, caffeine consumption, alcohol use and psychosocial issues like stress levels and depression. The researchers did find a connection between exposure to tobacco smoke while in utero and later diagnosis of ADHD, and a small connection between a mother's psychosocial stressors and her child's eventual ADHD diagnosis. However, they did not establish a connection between caffeine consumption during pregnancy and a later ADHD diagnosis in the child.

Caffeine and ADHD Symptoms

A 2010 study conducted at the University of Kentucky looked for an association between cigarette and caffeine use and symptoms of ADHD and depression in young adults. The study found a pronounced association between cigarette smoking and both ADHD and depression symptoms, and also determined that a connection between caffeine consumption and symptoms of depression and ADHD was likely. The researchers suggested further study of this possible association. At this time, there is no definitive evidence that caffeine can bring about symptoms of ADHD, but research suggests the possibility is worth considering, especially with respect to people who consume a great deal of caffeine.

Alternative Remedies for ADHD

You may seek alternate or herbal therapies for ADHD either to complement or take the place of standard stimulant treatments. While no definitive evidence shows the efficacy of these remedies, some people report symptom improvement. Dietary changes are one approach to treating ADHD. In an elimination diet, you eschew anything with artificial color or chemical additives, milk, chocolate, wheat, eggs and foods that contain salicylates such as apples, plums, berries and tomatoes.

ADHD symptoms have links to zinc deficiency in some cases, and be cautious about supplementing with this mineral. Taking larger doses of zinc long-term can have side effects like anemia.

Herbals sometimes used to treat ADHD symptoms include St. John's Wort, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, melatonin and pine bark extract. However, empirical evidence has not shown any of these to be a successful treatment. Be careful in opting to take supplements. Talk with your health-care provider before you begin any regimen, including an herbal or supplement-based one. Be especially cautious before using a supplement regimen with a child, as supplements are often not proven safe in children.

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