Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a developmental condition that mostly affects children, although adults can suffer from it, too. It is characterized by inattentiveness, impulsive behavior and concentration problems. Although the exact cause of ADHD is unclear, environmental and genetic factors may contribute to its development. ADHD is commonly treated with prescription medicines and behavioral therapy. Stimulant drugs, such as methylphenidate and dextroamphetamine, are most commonly prescribed. An herbal supplement known as pycnogenol may also help improve symptoms of ADHD, although scientific evidence to prove it is effective is mixed. Consult a doctor before using it.
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Pycnogenol, which is extracted from the bark of the French maritime pine tree, may have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immune-stimulating effects. It is sometimes used as an alternative treatment for several conditions including hypertension, erectile dysfunction and ADHD. It may also have memory enhancing effects.
Studies evaluating the role of pycnogenol in the treatment of ADHD have produced mixed results. A study published in the September 2002 issue of the “Journal of Attention Disorders,” found that although ADHD symptoms improved during treatment with pycnogenol, it did not outperform a placebo control. In contrast, the results of the trial published in the September 2006 issue of “European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,” found that children that received 1mg per kilogram of body weight per day for four weeks experienced a significant reduction in hyperactivity . Pycnogenol also improved attention and concentration. No positive effects were seen in the placebo group. In addition, the researchers found that a relapse of symptoms occurred one month after terminating pycnogenol treatment.
Taking up to 450mg of pycnogenol daily may be safe for most adults. However, children may not be able to tolerate that as high doses. It may cause side effects including headache, dizziness and gastrointestinal upset. The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center adds that it may cause irritability, especially when used for the treatment of ADHD. This herb should not be used by people with an autoimmune disease and should be avoided during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Other Potentially Helpful Botanicals
Several herbs are sometimes used to improve symptoms of ADHD, including American ginseng and passionflower. However, few scientific studies have evaluated their efficacy as ADHD treatments, although the results of study published in the May 2001 issue of the “Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience,” found that American ginseng, combined with ginkgo, improved ADHD symptoms. Get medical clearance before using herbs to treat ADHD, particularly in children.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: Pine Bark Extract
- "Journal of Attention Disorders”; An Experimental Comparison of Pycnogenol and Methylphenidate in Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); S. Tenenbaum et al; September 2002
- "European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry;” Treatment of ADHD with French Maritime Pine Bark Extract, Pycnogenol; September 2006
- RxList: Pycnogenol
- “Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience”; Effect of the Herbal Extract Combination Panax Quinquefolium and Ginkgo Biloba on Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Pilot Study; M.R. Lyon et al; May 2001