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Does caffeine help control ADHD?

by Mark Miller August 03, 2017

Does caffeine help control ADHD?

  Children playing in the yard, by Christian Eduard Boettcher, 1857 ( Public domain)

Does caffeine help control ADHD? It's still under study, but maybe.

If you feel antsy or hyperactive, impulsive and your attention wanders, it's possible you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is usually thought of as a disorder in children, but you can have it even if you are an adult. You might think the last thing you should take is caffeine, which is known to boost energy. But it may be just what the doctor ordered.

WebMD elucidates further what the symptoms of ADHD are. People with this disorder:

  • Procrastinate or don't finish tasks or chores at all.
  • Are disorganized and lack of focus.
  • Lack attention to detail, make mistakes and do messy work.
  • Can't remain on topic, difficulty listening and not following rules.
  • Are forgetful of appointments or bringing lunch to work, for example.
  • Are easily distracted by things that others don't even notice, like noises in the environment.
  • Fidget in their seat, talk excessively, get up a lot and walk or run around.
  • Are always on the go or have trouble playing or working quietly.
  • Interject answers out of turn, interrupt people, start talking when it is not appropriate.
  • Are impatient and don't wait their turn.

'Constantly in motion'

WebMD states:

Toddlers and preschoolers with ADHD tend to be constantly in motion, jumping on furniture and having trouble participating in group activities that call for them to sit still. For instance, they may have a hard time listening to a story.

School-age children have similar habits, but you may notice those less often. They are unable to stay seated, squirm a lot, fidget, or talk a lot.

Hyperactivity can show up as feelings of restlessness in teens and adults. They may also have a hard time doing quiet activities where you sit still.

The site Medical News Today reports that between 5 and 11 percent of children in the United States have ADHD.Many adults may have it, but the disorder often goes undiagnosed in older people.

Everyone may experience some of the symptoms above, but in people with the full-blown disorder, ADHD can interfere with school, work or social situations.

Does caffeine help control ADHD?

Medical News Today cites two studies, one in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology that says caffeine may normalize dopamine levels and thereby improve ADHD patients' attention.

The other study, in the journal Medical Hypotheses, suggests tea may also help adults suffering with ADHD. The abstract of the second study states:

Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is an increasingly recognized Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) psychiatric disorder associated with significant functional impairment in multiple domains. Although stimulant has the most empirical support as treatment for ADHD in adults, because of the poor treatment compliance, many adults with the disorder continue to experience significant residual symptoms. Tea is a kind of stimulant and many adults like to drink it. The caffeine in tea can reduce one's fatigue, increase people's self-confidence, motivation, alertness, vigilance, efficiency, concentration, and cognitive performance. This report proposes that tea consumption maybe an effective active treatment for adult ADHD.

Medical News Today says there are some drawbacks to using caffeine as a treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, including that amounts of the chemical vary in products that contain it. The site says even the same types of products can vary greatly. For example, a light coffee may contain much less caffeine than a dark coffee brewed for a long time. Coffee can vary from 6 mg per fluid ounce to 90 mg/fl oz, Caffeine Informer reports.

A caution

Medical News Today cautions that caffeine alone may not be sufficient to treat ADHD. The condition may require more stimulants than that provided by caffeinated beverages, foods or drugs. The site also states that taking caffeine with other stimulants may result in what it calls "stimulant overload."

Stimulants alone or in combination with caffeine can cause sleep disruption, anxiety, irritability, headaches, tics, shaking and tremors. It can also affect appetite or cause sour stomach or a stomachache. These conditions can be worse in some people than in others who are more deeply affected by stimulants and/or caffeine.

Get a doctor's advice

Whatever you do, don't begin using caffeine to treat ADHD without a doctor's advice. Parents with children with ADHD especially should take this advice to heart. Caution should be used by other people who have other health problems, such as anxiety, high blood pressure, glaucoma or heart, liver or kidney disease.

The article in Medical News Today has an entire section on the dangers of children using excess amounts of caffeine and cautions that doctors should be consulted before parents give ADHD kids caffeine.

A case study

Christie Haskell, the mother of a 7-year-old wrote, of her treating her hyperactive son with two small cups of coffee per day several years ago. She didn't want to have him put on Ritalin, which she said has had little success in treating ADHD.

She wrote at CafeMom in 2011:

Except, well, Ritalin? Not exactly a shining success story. In fact, not at all. But what it does is, well, it's a stimulant. Sounds weird for hyperactivity, right? But it increases blood flow to the brain, and helps people focus and process information more quickly. And stimulants in people with ADHD? It actually calms them down.

So, just to be clear, we're not exactly following doctor's orders here. One study looked at four kids WITHOUT ADHD and said it wasn't beneficial. Um ... yeah. We're not talking about every kid here either. However, with limited, low-milligram amounts, monitoring our kid's reactions to the caffeine, a lot of moms, in growing numbers, are starting to see really positive results with just a little cup of Joe for our kids. Some moms use little, low milligram caffeine tablets, especially for kids who hate the taste of coffee.

Another caution

ABC News asked a doctor about giving kids with ADHD caffeine. Dr. David Rosenberg, a child psychiatrist, told ABC:

'Caffeine is not the answer for real, bonafide ADHD. I don't want parents to be deluded into a false sense of security that if I just go to the local Starbucks, I'm going to cure my son or daughter's ADHD.'

The last word

Let's let the American Psychological Association have the last word on whether kids especially should be treated with caffeine for ADHD:

Marjorie Roth Leon, PhD, of National-Louis University, thinks not. She performed an aggregate analysis of 19 empirical studies examining the effects of caffeine on aspects of cognitive, psychomotor, and emotional functioning among children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Traditional treatments, such as the stimulant drugs methylphenidate and amphetamine, outperformed caffeine in improving functioning and reducing levels of hyperactivity. However, says Leon, 'compared to giving children with ADHD no treatment whatsoever, caffeine appears to have potential to improve their functioning in the areas of improved parent and teacher perceptions of their behavior, reduced levels of aggression, impulsiveness and hyperactivity, and improved levels of executive functioning and planning.'

Leon believes caffeine's positive effects are not limited to children with ADHD in terms of curbing aggressiveness.

'Caffeine decreases explosiveness in children who have ADHD, and similarly increases feelings of calm in people who do not have ADHD,' she says.

Mark Miller
Mark Miller


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