Health Team

Study: Popular herbal supplement no help for ADHD kids

Posted June 10, 2008
Updated June 11, 2008

Parents of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder often turn to herbal supplements when prescription medications don't work.

Up to 30 percent of the thousands of children with ADHD do not respond to traditional medications or have adverse reactions to them.

A new study, however, shows at least one popular herbal supplement doesn't help.

The parents of Adriana Arjona, who was diagnosed with ADHD at age 6, worried that she might be among such patients.

Adriana said the urge to fidget and difficulties concentrating caused problems with her classmates.

"Sometimes, it was harder to fit in with people, because, you know, I wasn't like them. I always had the need to move," Adriana said.

Adriana's mother worried about possible side effects from prescription medications, so she chose to treat her daughter with St. John's Wort – one of the most commonly used herbal supplements for ADHD.

"I think the real concern with St. John's Wort is that, one, we found it didn't work for ADHD," Dr. Wendy Weber, with Bastyr University, said. Bastyr, north of Seattle, focuses on natural medicine.

Weber recently conducted a study of 54 children between the ages of 6 and 17 who all had ADHD.

Half of the children received 900 milligrams of St. John's Wort each day for eight weeks. The other half of the group got a sugar pill as a placebo.

"We found that individuals who took St. John's Wort did no better than children who took the placebo," Weber said.

Researchers said the children continued to exhibit ADHD symptoms, including restlessness, hyperactivity and an inability to concentrate. The study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Even though it's a natural product, that does not necessarily mean that it's safe," Weber said. "And so you always want to talk to your health-care provider about using those natural treatments and keep them informed, because there can be interactions."

Researchers recommend talking to children's doctors before trying any supplements or combining them with other medications.


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  • tarheelalum Jun 11, 2008

    The FDA won't even address St. John's Wort or any other natural supplement...

  • tarheelalum Jun 11, 2008

    As if Doctors will be so quick to recommend a natural supplement that can bought OTC as opposed to having to continue to see them for prescriptions, check ups, etc. I thought St. Johns Wort was was used as anti-depressant which would indicate it's a stimulate, not a depressant like what I assume people with adhd would need? Not really sure though.

  • lauraleigh Jun 11, 2008

    Never heard of using St John's Wort for ADHD. Depression, yes - and it's very effective for that, per use in Europe and Australia. But not ADHD. On the other hand, I have friends who've hand very good success using gota kola for their extremely ADHD son.

    Could it be that the FDA is reporting use of inappropriate herbs in order to discredit alternative, nutritional and herbal therapies altogether???? Hmmmmmm?

  • mrtwinturbo Jun 11, 2008

    I have always felt that ADHD was a term given for bad parenting, a good wooping is what the kids needed.

  • SuperUnknown Jun 11, 2008

    First of all, why are small studies (of 54 children, or 58, depending on which media source you look at) given such attention.
    Also, when you look at the financial disclosure on the article, which is published in JAMA
    Financial Disclosures: Dr Biederman reports that he currently receives research support from the following sources: Alza, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, McNeil, Merck, Organon, Otsuka, Shire, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; that he is currently a consultant/advisory board member for the following pharmaceutical companies: Janssen, McNeil, Novartis, and Shire; that he is currently a speaker for the following speaker's bureaus: Janssen, McNeil, Novartis, Shire, and UCB Pharma
    Is it just a coincidence that one of the authors is an advisory board member at Novartis, who first produced Ritalin in the 1950s?

  • Full_Decker Jun 11, 2008

    Up to 30 percent of the thousands of children with ADHD do not respond to traditional medications or have adverse reactions to them.

    The reason for this is because if you have ADHD the pills will work properly, if you don't they will make you MORE hyperactive. Problem is doctors today see a kid who misbehaves a lot in school and say, "They have ADHD" or if the kid ONLY struggles in school they say, "Well then they have ADD". ADD and ADHD have been used as a scape goat for doctors FOR MANY YEARS.

  • Mad Baumer Jun 10, 2008

    Any one else find it humorous that they used a sugar pill for ADHD children. "he kids went wild".. Really? Shocker

  • hyplady1 Jun 10, 2008

    Unfortunately the St Johns Wort used is once again a standardized extract. When will this country stop using standardized extracts vs the whole herb as GOD gave it to us. When you mess with the original it just doesn't work the same. St. Johns Wort is an herb that takes longer to notice effects. In many cases it can be over 6 weeks. Review what herbalists have written for centuries on herbs and you'll have a more definitive analysis on the effects of this and other herbs. Take a look at the photo, you see little white pills not an herb. Enough said.