Does it really help to drink coffee for ADHD symptoms?
It is estimated that about 5.4 million children suffer from attention deficit disorder (ADD) also known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Children with ADHD have difficulty focusing and show hyperactive and impulsive behaviours.
Very often, this condition affects the children's ability to sit attentively in class and learn.
Growing numbers of educated parents are looking for alternative to Ritalin or Adderall, the commonly prescribed drug for treating ADHD.
There are reports that giving a child a small cup of coffee in the morning seems to treat ADHD.
Is this really true? Read on to find out some of the research studies behind how caffeine found in coffee might work...
Your first though is probably the same as ours.
Coffee for ADHD?!
Are you kidding me?
Isn't the caffeine found in coffee a stimulant?
Giving coffee to children would cause them bounce off the wall!
In case you might have forgotten, prescription drugs like Ritalin and Adderall are stimulates too. Yet they exhibit the opposite effects.
Both prescription ADHD medications and caffeine are believed to cause the brain to release dopamine (a neurotransmitter) and to stimulate the brain activity in a person suffering from ADHD.
Let's look at some scientific evidence to see if using coffee for ADHD might actually work...
Here's one of the earlier studies that suggested that caffeine may be helpful in children suffering from ADHD:
The authors compared caffeine in a low and high dose to the benefits of Ritalin (methylphenidate). It was a small double-blinded crossover study that involved six children diagnosed with ADHD. Here's what the researchers found:
Caffeine given at a low dose was as effective as Ritalin 10 mg; the researchers could not tell the difference.
Giving the children a higher dose of caffeine did not show any benefit.
Combining a low dose of caffeine with Ritalin gave the most benefit compared to either Ritalin or low dose coffee alone.
Sure, the study was very small, but it was conducted in a double-blinded fashion to avoid any placebo bias from the children or the researchers.
As well, the crossover nature of the study meant that each child received all three protocols (low dose caffeine, high dose caffeine and caffeine in low dose added to Ritalin 10 mg).
It seems clear that the dose of caffeine is important in achieving the expected results.
That might mean that if you plan on using coffee for reducing ADHD symptom in your child, you should essentially stick with one brand of coffee beans, the same grind and prepare the coffee in exactly the same way. This will ensure that the caffeine content is the same for each pot of coffee that you brew.
Let's look at some animal study. The results may not directly translate to benefits in kids with ADHD but it's a starting point to support further research studies in human subjects.
Although there are no clinical studies done on using coffee for ADHD in children (let along adults), many animal studies seem to show that there are benefits in using caffeine for ADHD symptoms. We'll look at two such studies.
Here's the reference to the first animal study:
The researchers induced ADHD in rats. They were either given caffeine for 14 days or none and made to travel through a maze.
The rat's performance in terms of motor skills and attention deficit was tracked. Here's what they found out:
Caffeine did not seem to have any effect on the rat's motor activity.
Caffeine significantly reduced the attention deficit symptoms.
The conclusion the authors made was that using the caffeine found in coffee for ADHD symptom management might work in young children.
In a second animal study, caffeine was shown to improve spatial learning ability in rats with ADHD. Here's the reference to the study:
Rats given caffeine (at a dose of 3 mg/kg via intraperitoneal injection) showed improved learning capability compared to the rats not given caffeine. Also, caffeine seems to also improve the rat's memory of the maze as well.
As a side note, the authors revealed that none of the dose of caffeine given to the rats increased their blood pressure. This is a commonly reported side effect with caffeine use and a legitimate concern for humans.
In additional, caffeine also seem to be effective for cutting down on the paradoxical hyperactivity state that some children experience when they come out of sedation (after an operation).
This hyperactivity state is very similar to the symptoms seen in children with ADHD so the researchers wanted to find out if indeed caffeine would work.
Here's the reference to this rather large and comprehensive study:
They looked at 19,894 children undergoing sedation from January 2000 to April 2003. From this, they found 360 children who experienced paradoxical hyperactivity.
The researchers treated 229 of these children with caffeine. (We won't talk about the part of their study with caffeine given intravenously since that's not something you would considering using.)
Children were given Mountain Dew because it contained caffeine. The dose used was 1.0 to 2.5 mg/kg of body weight.
Here are the results they uncovered:
41% of the children given Mountain Dew had significantly less paradoxical hyperactivity symptoms.
There was no difference in the recovery time whether the children received Mountain Dew or not.
There were no side effects or complications with giving the children the Mountain Dew which contained caffeine.
The conclusion from the authors of this study? Caffeine seems to be an effective treatment for paradoxical hyperactivity after sedation.
Thinking giving to your child coffee for ADHD symptoms?
It is worth trying considering that there is evidence that it does work in some children.
It is safe in moderate quantities. And in the worse case, it either won't work or your child experiences more hyperactivity symptoms.
You'll never know until you try using coffee for ADHD symptom reduction.
However, the dosage used is important. Too low a dose, and you get no effect. Too high a dose and it also will not work. Always start with a low dose and move upwards over several days or weeks.
Stick with one brand of coffee. Brew it exactly the same way to ensure that there won't be too much difference in the caffeine content from one day to the next.
Another perhaps better option is to use low dose caffeine tablets to ensure accurate dosing for the children.
As always, consult with your health care professional for additional guidance and advice if you are unsure about correct dose of coffee for ADD treatment.
There are many supplements, vitamins and herbal remedies that are used around the world to manage ADD/ADHD symptoms in both children and adults.