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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a brain disorder that is most commonly marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity which interferes with the person’s functioning or development (1).  ADHD is often noticed in school-aged children when they have concentration problems, trouble with homework, or disrupt class.  According to the American Psychiatric Association, ADHD is one of the most common mental disorders that affects children, with about 5 percent of children being diagnosed with it (2).

Literally, thousands of studies have been conducted on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  Despite this long research history, ADHD is not necessarily well understood among the lay public, given the many controversies and public misconceptions concerning the disorder (3,4).  Some longitudinal evidence suggests that childhood ADHD persists into young adulthood in 60-70% of the cases when defined relative to same-age peers and in 58% of the cases when DSM-V criteria and parental reports are used (5,6,7). Because of its prevalence and many misconceptions, the scientific status of ADHD is one of the most controversial issues in child health.


While the cause of ADHD is unknown, there are certain risk factors that could contribute to ADHD including:

  • Genes
  • Cigarette smoking, alcohol use, or drug use during pregnancy
  • Exposure to environmental toxins during pregnancy
  • Exposure to environmental toxins, such as high levels of lead, at a young age
  • Low birth weight
  • Brain injuries (1)


To be diagnosed with ADHD, a person must exhibit at least 6 symptoms if under 17 years old or at least 5 symptoms if 17 years old or older from the following categories and last for a minimum of 6 months.  The symptoms, however, must be inappropriate for the person’s developmental level (8).

Inattention: Failure to pay attention to details, makes careless mistakes; difficulty sustaining attention in task or play; does not seem to listen when spoken to directly; does not follow through on instructions  or does not complete tasks; has difficulty organizing tasks and activities; avoids, dislikes or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort; loses things needed for tasks or activities; is easily distracted; is forgetful in daily activities (8).

Hyperactivity/Impulsivity: Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms when seated; does not remain seated when expected to; runs or climbs excessively in inappropriate situations; difficult playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly; acts as if driven by a motor; talks excessively; blurts out answers before questions are completed; has difficulty waiting his or her turn; interrupts or intrudes on others (8).

Some of the symptoms listed must be present before the age of 12 or be present in multiple settings (8).

For more information on ADHD and diagnosis:  1. Talk to your doctor  2. Visit the National Institute of Mental Health website 3. Visit the Attention Deficit Disorder Association website  4. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website


ADHD is one of the most common psychiatric conditions in children (2).  Based on the Health Resources and Services Administration’s National Survey of Children’s Health, the percentage of children aged 4–17 years diagnosed with ADHD increased from 7.8% in 2003 to 9.5% in 2007, representing a 21.8% increase in just 4 years (9).  ADHD is diagnosed in boys at a rate of two to four times that of girls, although this observation may be the result of referral patterns from teachers (10,11).

Although ADHD was once regarded as a disorder of childhood and adolescence, an estimated 50% of patients diagnosed with ADHD under the age of 18 years continue to have symptoms as an adult (12).  Overall, the prevalence of ADHD in adults ranges from 3.5% to 4.5% (13).  ADHD is found in all countries surveyed with rates similar to, if not higher than, those found in North America (14,15).

Production of the medications used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ADHD has skyrocketed in recent decades.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that ADHD diagnoses in children increased by 41% between 2003 and 2011.  It was estimated that 11% of children between the ages of 4 and 17 years old had been diagnosed with ADHD, as of 2011.  That is 6.4 million children in total (16).


There is no cure for ADHD and treatment for ADHD remains controversial.  A long-term study concluded that medication by itself without some kind of therapy may not be successful in long-term outcomes (17). Doctors commonly prescribe two types of medications for ADHD, namely stimulants and non-stimulants (1).

Stimulants are the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD and are often the first course of drugs used for ADHD treatment.  They work by increasing the amounts of the hormones called dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.  This effect usually improves concentration and decreases the fatigue (1).  Some stimulant medications include:

  • Amphetamines: amphetamine, dextroamphetamine or lisdexamfetamine.  Marketed as Adderall XR: Dexedrine, Dyanavel, XREvekeo, ProCentra, and Vyvanse.
  • Methylphenidate: works by helping the reuptake of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain and is also a mild stimulant.  Brand names include: Aptensio XR; Metadate ER; Concerta; Daytrana; Ritalin; Ritalin LA; Methylin; QuilliChew; Quillivant; Focalin (18).

Non-stimulants affect the brain differently than stimulants do.  These drugs also affect neurotransmitters, but they don’t increase dopamine levels.  In general, it takes longer to see results from these drugs than from stimulants.  A doctor might prescribe non-stimulants when stimulants aren’t safe or are ineffective for the patient.  They may also prescribe them if a person wants to avoid the side effects of stimulants (1).

  • Atomoxetine (Strattera) lets norepinephrine work longer in the brain.  The drug is long-acting (18).
  • Clonidine (Kapvay) is used to reduce hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and distractibility in people with ADHD.  This drug is also used to treat high blood pressure.  Because it also lowers blood pressure, people taking it for ADHD may feel lightheaded (18).
  • Guanfacine (Intuniv) is normally prescribed for high blood pressure in adults.  This drug is available as a generic, but only the time release version and its generics are approved for use in children with ADHD.  This drug may help with memory and behavioral problems.  It may also help improve aggression and hyperactivity (18).

Potential side-effects of stimulant and non-stimulant drugs include:

  • Sleep problems
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of appetite
  • Heart problems
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions (1)


Practices to Support Mental Focus:

  • Diet: Avoid some artificial colorings and additives, eat omega-3 rich foods, and eat a balanced diet of minerals and vitamins (19).
  • Electroencephalographic (EEG) biofeedback: EEG is a type of neurotherapy that measures brain waves.  A 2011 study suggested that EEG training was a promising treatment for ADHD.  A child may play a special video game during a typical session.  They’ll be given a task to concentrate on, such as “keep the plane flying.”  The plane will start to dive, or the screen will go dark if they’re distracted.  The game teaches the child new focusing techniques over time.  Eventually, the child will begin to identify and correct their symptoms  (20).
  • Yoga (21)
  • Behavioral Therapy (22)

Natural Supplements to Support Mental Focus:


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  2. What is ADHD? American Psychiatric Association. Accessed July 9, 2018.
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