Caffeine as ADHD Treatment?

caffeine for adhd

 

I wasn’t going to write about caffeine or coffee as an ADHD treatment. I don’t really know if it is consider natural at all, as it is also a stimulant like all other ADHD medications.

Anyway, I was in my office the other day talking to a co-worker in the afternoon when my boss walked in with a 2-liter bottle of Mountain Dew in his hand. He loves Mountain Dew and he drinks a lot of it. I don’t know how much exactly, but I always see a bottle of Mountain Dew – big or small on his desk.

Then it dawns on me that I should write about caffeine. My boss is not hyperactive or anything. He hides in his office all day looking busy, but probably having hard time focusing on task. He talks 10,000 miles per hour, and talks people’s ears off. I’m pretty sure he has undiagnosed ADHD or ADD, and using caffeine as his treatment.

I started to learn about caffeine as ADHD treatment many years ago, when Child Psychiatry started sending their ADHD patients to see me. These children with ADHD are usually underweight because of poor appetite, an extremely common side effect of ADHD medications. I came across one patient who has mild ADHD symptoms. Instead of being put on medication, his/her psychiatrist suggested the family to give couple ounces of caffeine soda everyday, and it works.

At first I thought it was odd. But it makes perfect sense. All ADHD medications such as methylpenidate and amphetamines, are stimulants, and so is caffeine, except caffeine does not need prescription and readily available in beverages.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is an inability to regulate attention. Magnetic resonance imaging studies suggest a weakening of inhibitory signaling in the frontal cortex in the ADHD brain. Stimulants, such as caffeine, help stimulate the frontal cortex to wake up the area that regulates attention. And that’s how caffeine and other stimulants work. In a normal person without ADHD any stimulants will make this person wide-awake, hyper, anxious and even cause insomnia. However, in someone with ADHD, stimulants have the opposite effect. It calms the nerves, helps the brain focus and process information. It may make the person drowsy or sleepy too in some cases.

In the ADHD brain, stimulants, such as mehtylpenidate, amphetamines and even caffeine works by increasing dopamine levels and blocking the reuptake of norepinephrine in the brain.

SIDE EFFECTS Treating children with ADHD with caffeine is controversial. It may cause insomnia, nervousness, irritability and increased heart rate. And in a growing child, caffeine may also stunt growth. In my practice I always warn parents to avoid caffeine in their children’s diet. All ADHD medications have the same side effects.

Caffeine, like all other stimulants, suppresses appetite and stunts growth.

Most children take their medication in the morning with breakfast, so breakfast is usually their best meal of the day. Once the medication kicks in the appetite become non-existent. Then come evening when the medication wears off, their appetite is back.

WHAT TO DRINK? There are a lot of beverages, especially energy drinks that are loaded with caffeine. Do not try caffeine supplements or sports performance-enhancing supplements that are really loaded with caffeine. Those you have to be very careful, especially if you have any heart problem.

For children, 1-2 ounces of coffee will work. I find that coffee somehow works better than caffeinated soda. Not sure why, maybe the high fructose corn syrup in regular soda.

Try the Best Bulletproof Coffee Recipe for ADHD

Again consult your doctor or your child’s pediatrician/psychiatrist before adding caffeine or caffeine-containing beverages to the daily routine.

How much caffeine?

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Author: Anna

I’m a board-certified Pediatric Nutritionist, who takes care of medically-fragile infants and children in the US Defense System; I’m mother of a teenager and a real estate investor. I love spending time with friends and family playing tennis, golf, hiking and stand-up-paddling. And we live in Honolulu, Hawaii.