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Health Team

Study: Popular herbal supplement no help for ADHD kids

Posted June 10, 2008 5:12 p.m. EDT
Updated June 11, 2008 11:58 a.m. EDT

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.