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Ask the Pharmacist: Caffeine is a natural option for ADHD
Suzy Cohen, Columnist
Published 5:02 a.m. ET April 29, 2019
Caffeine is the number one stimulant and and psychoactive drug in the world.
The category of ADHD medications such as Concerta, Adderall, Ritalin, Dexedrine and others are “stimulant” drugs, and so is caffeine. They all raise certain compounds in the body such as dopamine and norepinephrine (and others).
Here are five reasons why I think this is a good option for some of you:
Most all medical treatments for ADHD include a nervous system stimulant, which may sound strange to you, considering the patient appears to be overly active, wound up or unfocused. But this is true, conventional treatment of ADHD utilizes physiological stimulants. Caffeine is a stimulant.
A study published in the European Neuropsychopharmacology, concluded that caffeine can normalize dopamine levels (which is exactly what the pharmacy drugs do). Caffeine raises both dopamine and norephinephrine, just like the medications.
There was a study that evaluated caffeinated tea. They concluded that “The caffeine in tea can reduce one’s fatigue, increase people’s self-confidence, motivation, alertness, vigilance, efficiency, concentration, and cognitive performance.”
So profound is caffeine’s impact on the brain and cognitive function that Stanford University even funded a small study to evaluate if dextroamphetamine is superior to caffeine in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Caffeine has been shown to extinguish the action of adenosine receptors in your brain. This was discussed in a 2014 review article published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology which recommended the use of caffeine for ADHD.
Just like methylphenidate, caffeine begins to work in about an hour, and as you might expect, the effect wears off after about four hours. Both methylphenidate and caffeine are absorbed and physiologically processed in a similar way. Their mechanism of action is the same, as are the side effects. One is a prescription amphetamine drug, the other is America’s favorite hot coffee!
The downside is that caffeine can wear out adrenals if taken long-term. Caffeine content varies with each food and beverage making daily dosing through diet somewhat difficult. With tea, the amount of time that you steep the teabag determines the caffeine content.
Some people find that caffeine helps their ADHD, while others find that it doesn’t offer any benefit at all. Pay attention to your body and work with your doctor/therapist to find out what is right for you. Too much caffeine or excessively high dosing on stimulants medications may cause insomnia, tachycardia, aggression, diarrhea and dehydration.
The intake of caffeinated drinks, caffeine pills or energy drinks containing caffeine or guarana may seem like a nice and exciting alternative to prescription medications, I just want to caution you that if combined with conventional (amphetamine) medications, the impact could be dangerous. As an aside, many studies point to DHA Fish Oil as a useful essential fatty acid, which may be taken with medications or caffeine.
How much caffeine is too much? The United States FDA hasn’t fully defined this but the Canadian government has suggested not to exceed 85 mg in kids aged 10 to 12 years. I have a much more comprehensive version of this article that I can email to you if you sign up for my free newsletter at suzycohen.com.