Treating ADHD Without Stimulants

Treating ADHD Without Stimulants
4.76 (95.24%) 21 votes

Exercise has been shown to be effective in controlling attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder symptoms, and carries only positive side effects.


Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Every year in the United States, doctors write 20 million prescriptions for stimulants, like Ritalin, to give to kids for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And. it goes up every year. In fact, more than any other drug class—another 0.8 million added every year to that 20 million. That’s a lot of amphetamines for a lot of kids.

These drugs are thought to act by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain. Guess what else can increase dopamine and norepinephrine levels? Exercise. And, it happens within minutes of getting on a bike; levels shoot up. Medications take an hour to work; physical activity works almost immediately.

But, does it work for ADHD? According to the latest review, there isn’t a lot of research out there. But, the current evidence suggests that both “acute and chronic” physical activity can “mitigate ADHD symptoms.”

So, while “medications and exercise with regard to ADHD shows that they both work to more adequately regulate dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain,” some of the new long-acting formulations of drugs can work for up to 12 hours—whereas the therapeutic effect of exercise may only last an hour or so.

But, the drugs “produce unwanted side effects, and have the potential for abuse. Exercise has been shown to be effective in controlling ADHD symptoms, [and] has essentially no side effects.”

While that’s not really true, “[I]t should be noted that a major difference in the two treatment modalities is that medications have a defined effect on ADHD symptoms alone, whereas exercise produces physical, mental, and emotional advantages that are far-reaching.” So, exercise does have side effects, but they’re all good.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to ADHD CENTER via flickr and Editor182 via Wikimedia

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Every year in the United States, doctors write 20 million prescriptions for stimulants, like Ritalin, to give to kids for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And. it goes up every year. In fact, more than any other drug class—another 0.8 million added every year to that 20 million. That’s a lot of amphetamines for a lot of kids.

These drugs are thought to act by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain. Guess what else can increase dopamine and norepinephrine levels? Exercise. And, it happens within minutes of getting on a bike; levels shoot up. Medications take an hour to work; physical activity works almost immediately.

But, does it work for ADHD? According to the latest review, there isn’t a lot of research out there. But, the current evidence suggests that both “acute and chronic” physical activity can “mitigate ADHD symptoms.”

So, while “medications and exercise with regard to ADHD shows that they both work to more adequately regulate dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain,” some of the new long-acting formulations of drugs can work for up to 12 hours—whereas the therapeutic effect of exercise may only last an hour or so.

But, the drugs “produce unwanted side effects, and have the potential for abuse. Exercise has been shown to be effective in controlling ADHD symptoms, [and] has essentially no side effects.”

While that’s not really true, “[I]t should be noted that a major difference in the two treatment modalities is that medications have a defined effect on ADHD symptoms alone, whereas exercise produces physical, mental, and emotional advantages that are far-reaching.” So, exercise does have side effects, but they’re all good.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to ADHD CENTER via flickr and Editor182 via Wikimedia

Doctor's Note

Other benefits of exercise include a strengthening of cancer defenses (see Exercise & Breast Cancer and Is It the Diet, the Exercise, or Both?), an improvement in cognition (see Reversing Cognitive Decline), and a longer lifespan (see What Women Should Eat to Live Longer).

This reminds me of other safe, natural, side effect-free solutions (like tap water gargling) to prevent the common cold (see Can Gargling Prevent the Common Cold?), and drinking water to improve scholastic performance in kids (see Does a Drink of Water Make Children Smarter?). The fact that they are cost-free is both an advantage (they’re free!), and disadvantage (no corporate budget driving their promotion, so we never hear about this kind of research). If only corporations could find a way to stuff exercise into a pill bottle for their stockholders…

For additional context, check out my associated blog post: How to Treat ADHD without Drugs.

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77 responses to “Treating ADHD Without Stimulants

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  1. Speaking as an adult sufferer of ADHD: 60 to 90 minutes is not going to cut it. There is no recess for me to enjoy when I have to work a shift. I can’t pop by the gym and pump out a work out every 60 to 90 minutes when I spend a day at college.

    That doesn’t mean that I DON’T engage in exercise for all the other stated benefits. It’s just a bit annoying to have people demean a legitimate condition with a legitimate medication.

    1. I don’t think he is being demeaning. I think what Dr. Greger is doing is demonstrating the evidence that exercise can be used as a sort of effective treatment for ADHD, while demonstrating the negative side-effects of medications. That doesn’t necessarily mean medications are a bad choice.

      But I know what you mean. People often tell me that they don’t think ADHD actually exists. That somehow a lack of attention is due to a lack of willpower or something.

      I am in Med School now, and I don’t think I would have made it here without medication.

      I feel for you John Smith. Attention issues are rough.

    2. I don’t think it’s demeaning, Dr Greger also posts about treating migraines without medication for example, that doesn’t mean he says migraines aren’t a legitimate condition.
      That said, I totally agree that the fact that exercise only works for an hour or so makes it practically worthless as a treatment for ADHD. At best you could say that if you had a test coming up and had the possibility to do some exercise right before that, it might be a good idea to do that. But for day to day life, work and study, people need something that works for 8 hours, not 1.

      1. You know what that says to me, assuming you’re correct in saying that medications are necessary in order to function in this society? That perhaps society is the problem, and that we need to restructure things so that all people, of all kinds, from the hyper-focused to those constantly needing to explore new things, etc. can function optimally. Seems ludicrous to me that we should expect all children to be able to sit still for hours every day, learn in the highly rigid, controlling way we’ve decided is appropriate (rather than letting them pursue their own interests, making the material more exciting, encouraging and fostering true excellence rather than praising meaningless achievement, etc.).

        1. Yes and no. I agree completely that kids will do far better if they pursue what they are fascinated about, but unfortunately, there are some things that kids don’t want to learn but need to. It would be nice if there was a way to create that fascination for new topics.

          Also, regarding meaningless achievements. Praise and criticism should be on what they did, not who they are. Young chess players who were told they were brilliant when they one a game had a much more fragile attitude than you chess players who were congratulated for working hard.

          1. Yes. Parents and teachers heap praise on mediocre achievement and do not want to
            Tell them the truth. The children themselves know they are not being told reality so that just gives everyone permission to continue elaborating.

        2. Note that children are not the only sufferers of ADHD. It is generally a lifetime condition. Better control over your environment can help less-severe cases live almost normally, but severe cases will have problems in pretty much any feasible environment, even among non-Western cultures.

    3. The video doesn’t claim ADHD isn’t legitimate. It also states that medication and exercise both work, while stating the obvious extra benefits of exercise. That’s far from a “demeaning” or bold statement.

    4. Make time. Your boss isn’t the owner of you and maybe you could be a little more creative about exercise instead of taking like you’re a slave.

    5. Another way of looking at it is that exercise plus medication might work better than education alone.

      I have read about top chess professionals that were having trouble concentrating in an important tournament and fixed the problem by walking into the hallway and sprinting for 30-60 seconds.

    6. My psychologist says to exercise for adhd. After watching this, beginning to think I need a job where I do physical activity all day. Participated in exercise program led by kinesiologists who seemed like they wouldn’t be able to pay enough attention if they had desk jobs. One would joke about it all the time. They would all say they’re not good at keeping track of the rep count.

      1. Moving about constantly does help, but it doesn’t ameliorate the symptoms, it just lets you take care of the restlessness and fidgeting. That said, inattention and impulsivity are worsened when freedom of movement isn’t granted, so there is that.

      2. Yes! I’m a Pilates instructor, and a physical therapy student. Among the many physical therapists I observed, not one of them was good at counting reps! I knew that this was common among Pilates instructors, but I was surprised (should I say relieved?) to see that some of the most brilliant and trail blazing PTs suffer from an inability to track reps, too! I could never sit at a desk all day, but at the same time, I don’t think that I have ADHD. That said, one of my children has pretty severe ADHD with impulsivity that causes him to do really bad, stupid things. He was seen as a bully in kindergarten. The day he went on ADHD meds, he turned into a different person. He’s been vegetarian since conception. No food dyes. Very limited processed foods (he has chocolate or other things in very limited amounts). We eat plant based whole foods, and have done so his entire life. Yet here he is, completely out of control without meds, and in control (dare I say friendly?) with them.

        And with a mama fitness instructor, you better believe that he exercises every single day!

        1. Wow, that is crazy. My daughter has ADHD which seems to have gotten better after putting her on a plant-based whole foods diet. I was really hoping that her ADHD was stemming from dietary issues but reading about your son makes me think that’s not the case.

  2. I take Adderal occasionally. Diagnosed as a kid.

    I usually medicate with coffee and tea, which probably have lower side effects than AMPS.

    I’m not an expert on ADHD, but it seems to me that severity can vary, and that the struggle can be task dependent. i.e. I can cook just fine, but I struggle organizing my thoughts enough to clean my room.

    I commute by bike. Now that I read this, yeah it is easier for me to task in that time period right after I get to my destination.

    I think that we could be helping kids with ADHD in identifying what tasks they think they need the medication for, and what tasks they can manage without medication.

    1. Dr. Greger.

      Is there any evidence that caffeine is an effective treatment for ADHD?

      In the mean time I can use it as a reason to drink more green tea.

      1. I had a psychiatrist who recommended I drink a cup of coffee in the morning because I was foggier when I’d get up. I think it’s very useful for me. I can’t take any ADHD meds (at least the all the ones available before 2010.)

      2. October 1973, American Journal of Psychiatry (or psychology, I can’t recall. I had to look at it via microfiche while at college and didn’t create paper copies) found that caffeine administered via coffee had a significant impact on symptoms of ADD (the actual diagnosis then… the H came later).

        That was the only published study I could find while at university. It helps me to an extent, but pales in comparison to amphetamine. Interestingly, I accidentally found that pseudoephedrine helped significantly while doing a web design project during a cold. It isn’t that odd, really, seeing as how it shares the same phenethylamine base structure as amphetamine, dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. This was, however, at the end of a 5 year period where I no longer to amphetamine starting mid-high school. This actually prompted me to go back to my psychiatrist to start taking amphetamine again.

      3. Coffee works, but only for a short time. You need to keep redosing coffee.

        however…if coffee (or any natural remedy) works like a drug, it *is* a drug. And if it works, it has side effects. One side effect is that it works, so that’s positive. But what about the negative side effects?

        So with that in mind, it’s hard to know whether coffee is safer than Ritalin. I mean, with one drug, you have to dose multiple times a day, which may have a worse Ki term outcome in your health. I feel like I may have read something from Dr. Fuhrman on coffee and ADHD? Regardless, Dr. F gives a scathing review of coffee/caffeine.

        1. Yea, caffeinated coffee makes me feel worse as it gives me the jitters and heart palpitations. I do love the taste of coffee so I always drink decaf lol. I’ve never really heard coffee as helping with anxiety though because of the kind of stimulant it is…very interesting.

  3. I’m a psychotherapist and have had ADD symptoms throughout my life. In studying and exploring various natural and alternative treatments for this I’ve found a number of very helpful things. Not just exercise, but various movements that activate cross-hemispheric stimulation are very good, like walking & biking. There are exercises called Edu-K that have been used with kids that involve simple left-right alternating movements and something as simple as tossing a ball or hackey sack back and forth, left to right hand, following the movement with your eyes has a calming and centering effect.

    I’ve focused on foods that can increase dopamine levels; walnuts, wheat germ, dark chocolate (cocoa powder), oats, and fava beans. I also drink a lot of strong green tea (in the form of matcha green tea powder) which gives me an alert calmness and clarity of mind. The original prescription drug for ADHD was called Deaner. Ritalin made it obsolete and it’s no longer a prescription med, but is available as a nutraceutical supplement called DMAE (I get a vegan formulation). It’s a chemical found in sardines and anchovies, has a mild stimulant effect and has been written about as a “smart drug”.

    I don’t thing there’s a lot of specific research on these things, but with myself and coaching others with ADHD, have found them to be safe and helpful alternatives to amphetamines for many people.

    1. The generic name for Deaner is deanol (made by cutting up Dimethylaminoethanol, aka DMAE). Unfortunately, beyond being known to raise acetylcholine in the brain (crosses the BBB better than acetylcholine), little is known in modern pharmacodynamics as to why it works the way it does. Plenty of sites do sell it as a nootropic.

      Most sites with more academic understanding of it (but still from a nootropic standpoint) tout centrophenoxine, which is DMAE and another substance bonded together, used for alzheimer memory problems.

    1. Because most of us/me, will exercise as a last resort when we feel all scattered. All I want to do is get straightened out and calm.

    2. I got plantar fasciitis trying to do intense exercise everyday. I think this video is misleading to say exercise only has beneficial side effects and perhaps will never consult this website again because of it. Apparently, you’re only supposed to do it 5 days a week at the most, but that was pretty much what I was actually doing in reality. I think I need to do every other day, which is recommended to prevent injury and thus increase the likelihood to stick to it.

  4. In my original post I mentioned Edu-K exercises to help with ADHD and didn’t realize that this was an old term for what is better known as “Brain Gym”. You’ll find much more info on this if you Google, Brain Gym ADHD.

  5. My daughter is eleven and takes Adderal. We really didn’t want to use medication with her, but she begged for it because she was struggling so much. In the end we agreed to let her try it because, she knows her body better than we do. She gets on average about two hours of strenuous exercise daily, sometimes more, as she has a black belt in martial arts and both attends and teaches classes. She takes the lowest dose possible, and it flushes out of the system quickly. For her, it’s like night and day. It makes a huge difference for her, and her reading skills are now almost up to grade level. So far she’s had zero side effects, and done amazingly well on it.

    1. Glad to see another success story. I probably would never have made it through even middle school without being put in the special ed courses due to my impulsivity and inattention. I was sufficiently intelligent to understand the material if it was interesting enough, but if it was mundane I was hopeless. Unfortunately, most early school work is mundane (basic math, grammar, writing, penmanship, history, etc).

      Adderall helped me become a better learner, and less of a danger to myself and others. I wasn’t perfect in terms of behavior, still being far below my peers, but I was able to learn and use my mind in a way that only ever occurred when I was very interested in something.

  6. Anyone can find and excuse NOT TO EXERCISE. Your objective is to find an REASON/EXCUSE TO EXERCISE and, exercise is not just pumping iron. Walking, stretching, isometrics, biking to work etc. are all forms of exercise. Don and I CAN! :-))

  7. ADD and ADHD have been linked to other conditions, as well. I have had severe ADD since I was a kid. When I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and started a gluten-free and eventually gluten-free vegan diet, my symptoms became much more manageable.

    It just depends on the person. Exercise works for some people and not others like many treatments.

    1. Yes, ADHD is sometimes secondary to an underlying condition. It might be secondary to more issues, too, but we have yet to identify them since ADHD tends to explain the symptoms and traditional stimulant and non-stimulant medications tend to reduce the symptoms. Glad to see you discovered the root of most of your symptoms, I am still looking for mine.

  8. Exercise can have bad side effects too. (1)Exercise greatly increases oxidative stress in the short term. Studies have shown that people who exercised after eating plants got much more benefit and much less harm from the exercise compared to people who exercised without the presence of plant-based antioxidants in their blood. (2)The numerous benefits of exercising regularly are all completely lost after a person stops exercising for only 3 months. In other words, people who exercised continually for several years will revert back to exactly what they would have been if they had never exercised if they quit exercising for only 3 months. To retain the numerous benefits of exercise, people would need to exercise continually and never quit until the day they die. (3)Exercise wastes time and decreases comfort during life. (4)People who exercise regularly suffer from more injuries, accidents, and even crimes compared to people who don’t exercise. Stress fractures have been shown to be much more common among people who exercise. Fatal heart attacks can be triggered by exercise. Joggers have been shown to suffer from knee injuries due to wear and tear and increased arthritis. Accidents and crimes are leading causes of death.

    For example, Jane Higdon, Ph. D., who worked for the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University as their most respected nutritional author, died painfully after being run over by a truck while exercising with her bicycle on a beautiful road:

    Jane Higdon’s sudden death at age 47 reminds us that Exercise Can Heal, Exercise Can Kill.

    1. Yes, I agree there are side effects, although not necessarily your list. That being said, I had a resident doctor tell me the benefits outweigh the risks, in case anyone thinks it’s better to omit exercise completely.

  9. There are so many good reasons to exercise I am always happy to see new angles of evidence for the benefits of being active animals. For a thorough report of the effects of physical activity on symptoms of ADHD – and a whole list of other challenges assisted by activity – Ratey’s book Spark is a must read. Thanks for underscoring the connection, Dr. Greger.

    Lani Muelrath

    1. Actually the evidence based on studies shows no long term benefit. I would highly recommend that you read Robert Whitaker’s book, The Anatomy of an Epidemic, especially chapter 11.. The epidemic spreads to children. His book reviews the history and studies concerning the common psychiatric dx… schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, bipolar an ADHD. Given the studies he cites I can no longer recommend anti anxiety and antidepressant medications for longer then 6 weeks in adults. The use of stimulants such as Ritalin, a dopamine reuptake inhibitor, in children is something I can’t recommend. I would recommend that any physician who writes Rx’s for psychiatric medications read his book and look into the studies he cites. Patients and parents of children considering drug therapy should read the book as well. Giving children whose brains are still actively forming a drug with similar but longer acting actions to cocaine should be approached only after consideration of all the evidence and with a large dose of the precautionary principle. Physicians have a responsibilty to “first do no harm”.

      1. As far as I have ever heard, ADHD meds are just recommended for short term, so that you can focus enough to build a foundation of necessary skills and get off the meds.

        1. Inattention and impulsivity are generally life-long problems, even with early medicinal and non-medicinal intervention. Some folks do manage to cobble together enough coping mechanisms to function as adults w/o meds, but most do not. These are the people spending a few weeks to 2-3 years at a job before being fired because those coping mechanisms fail after a period of time in most workplaces. Meaningful relationships also suffer after a short period of time after the start. With enough effort, most folks with ADHD can function like one would expect, but eventually that effort is just too much. They also tend to self-medicate with legal and illegal drugs. Stimulant medication treatment actually decreases the likelihood of abusing drugs.

          Plenty of folks suffer from ADHD as adults, whether medicated as children or not. Quality of life issues are greatly improved in medicated adults.

      2. With all due respect to Dr. Forrester and his opinion, I have a frustration similar to Dr. Greger’s …just as primary care doctors have little to no training in nutrition, similarly they have little to no training or experience in mental health issues. Too often PCP’s give advice based on less than solid evidence, with a just a general knowledge (or their own personal beliefs) of the mental health issue they are “treating”, and are too often the sole decision makers about medications for mental health issues their patients bring to them. Giving information or advice without the facts or necessary knowledge is a grave disservice and can result in mis-information to the general public about various mental health issues. Fighting the stigma and the myths that currently abound about ADHD is one of the hardest parts of dealing with the condition for the afflicted as well as her/his family members.
        As a mental health professional who has specialized in treating ADHD for 20 years, as well as the parent of a son with ADHD, I would encourage everyone interested in ADHD to read anything and everything by Dr. Russell Barkley. This psychiatrist expert has spent his life studying and educating people about ADHD. Anyone interested in both clinical information, medication efficacy and side effects, other effective adjunct treatments for ADHD, as well as general guidelines for parents, educators, medical doctors, teachers, should start with Barkley’s book “Taking Control of ADHD”.

        My family and I, including my ADHD son, are vegan and follow a whole food plant based diet and are regular exercisers; (we LOVE Dr. Greger and this site!!) but lifestyle alone will NOT provide adequate treatment for moderate to severe cases of ADHD nor ADD; unfortunately at this point, medication is the best and first line of effective treatment for ADHD. The consequences of NOT treating a child with mod/severe ADHD are much more damaging that any of the temporary side effects of stimulant medication. Medication should be combined with a whole food plant based diet, exercise, behavior modifications/parent and family training as needed and CBT work for the individual with ADHD/ADD.
        There is no cure for ADHD, but one of the most effective ways to “treat and manage” ADHD, in addition to what I mentioned above, is for the individual affected and her/his loved ones to learn as much as possible about ADHD to provide the best support possible. But please read from credible sources, as I’ve mentioned.
        If you or someone you know has issues with ADHD, I always advise a complete and thorough evaluation by a psychologist first to rule out any other mental health issues or learning disabilities that might be co-occurring; once you have a complete and accurate picture, then find a mental health professional (LPC, MSW, etc.) who works with ADHD for a complete and comprehensive treatment approach and plan of action.

  10. I have attention issues and have been on an off of dexedrine for the last 15 years. This year I decided, no more. I have adapted a vegan diet, work hard to fit in an hour of exercise a day (different every day), and stopped smoking. I have never felt better and my ability to focus for long periods of time is steadily increasing. This is not coincidental. These drugs are worse than the diagnosis in my opinion. One thing that is consistent is the lies we are told with intent or without on how to best manage our health. This is because the bottom line ends in a dollar sign.

    1. Melody: Thank you for sharing your story! It’s so inspiring. Good for you for taking your health into your own hands. Diet is not a magic pill, but it sure seems like one sometimes!

      Keep up the great work. You have inspired me to try to get in a little more exercise myself. :-)

  11. Seeing how the brain runs exclusively on glucose (created from whole, unprocessed, fruits and vegetables) the answer to me for attention deficit disorders is pretty obvious, that person is under carbed. In this day and age of high protein, low carb diets, it’s a simple case of eating the wrong food for our design.

  12. Hi Dr. Gregor. I actually have some questions regarding Ritalin use. I am thirty years old and I have suffered from ADHD. I have never used medication because I wanted to deal with it “naturally”, and I did so for much of my adult life. I had workedin very active job roles, and while I studied my first three years of college in my mid-twenties I biked to work and school everyday a total of 16 miles. I found that during that time I contolled my ADHD spectacularly. However, the last three years I have not had such a luxury of such intense exercise before and after school/work. I have found my ability to focus extremely diminished and I have trouble retaining information as well because of it. I have recently considered trying Ritalin, but I am scared because I do not take any medications and I am very health conscious. I am vegan and still physically fit. I rock climbing 5 days per week, but I am not doing so much Cardio as before. Would you recommend Ritalin when necessary? What are the negative side effects? Do you have any other advice?

    1. Hi Ashley. Thanks for reaching out I think you bring up important points. Another guest made a great post above yours as well. I think it is so personal it’s hard to say what medications to take. I would encourage a healthful diet and plenty of exercise you enjoy (the rock climbing sounds amazing)! Work with your doctors and find out if the meds are right for you and ask about the side effects. Know there is no shame in taking what works so yes when necessary I think medication can be very helpful. We need to weigh the benefits and risks of taking them and it varies for all of us. Hope that helps a bit. Best to you, Joseph

  13. I was diagnosed with this condition as a child, and struggled terribly,
    not only through school, but dozens of office desk jobs, later on. I’ve
    been off the pills, and eating a plant-based diet for over 13 years
    now, and have noticed that it does improve my condition. I’ve also
    noticed the same beneficial effects from exercise, and plenty of rest,
    as well as getting enough healthy social activity. Recently, I decided
    to take a more wholistic approach to life. And, because I spend most of
    my waking time at work, I decided that instead of (afterwards) figuring
    out how to make up for everything I was missing out on while I was at
    work, I would make those things a part of my work. I began a physically
    and intellectually demanding technology industry trade, which includes
    with the public, and a fair amount of creativity. Combine that with my
    simple diet, and I have all my bases covered during the day, so I have
    plenty of free time, and can relax, take it easy, and just enjoy my
    life. I also have more money, because I’m not spending it on pills,
    doctors, or at the gym. Now, I get to work out my entire being: mind,
    body, and spirit. For me, work is rarely ever difficult, and never has
    to feel stressful or convoluted. A positive attitude, like seeing
    challenges as opportunities for personal growth makes it easier to
    stay focused on my goals. Besides, I enjoy my life the way it is now,
    and definitely feel like what I get out of it is worth the sacrifice.
    Working and eating are both things which we all have to do, and so why
    not make them something which offers more benefits, and satisfies more
    than just one need? Food has to satisfy our hunger, but can it not also
    nourish, heal and protect our bodies? It doesn’t have to be about
    eating less, and working more. It’s simply about changing what we eat,
    and what we do.

  14. I recently finished participating in the Alberta Healthy Living Program, and they list the risks of exercise that you have to consent to. Of course, the benefits outweigh the negatives, but I avoid exercise when having a severe allergic reaction. I know someone that clinically died playing volleyball after consuming traces of allergen. He was told the exercise made him react more than usual.

  15. I find that lifting weights (on a proper planned regimen) lasts 48 hours. The Slight soreness in arms has a very grounding effect and keeps me not only calmer but also not so much in my head.

  16. I have been on Adderall for several years. It does work for me, but I am concerned there are long term use damages or possible medical side affects that I am not aware of. I have had some anemia, and now have osteoporosis. Could Adderall cause these or others problems?

    1. I am 32 years old and stopped taking Ritalin after college after about 10 years of prescription. Currently I have been struggling greatly with my ability to function in a work environment. Every person is different, but I have to wonder now: Was my brain permanently altered by the high levels of stimulant ingestion in my youth? My rough understanding is that Ritalin is mainly a dopamine (and norepinephrine) reuptake inhibitor, whereas Adderall functions more like cocaine in inhibiting dopamine reuptake (increasing availability) but also releasing more dopamine (and norepinephrine) in the first place.

      As I have gotten older I have become much more functional in many ways but far less in others. I have to admit that I have also had issues with drug use in the past (primarily cannabis, which I have finally forsaken). But I wonder whether the Ritalin caused a permanent reduction in my brain’s dopamine receptor sites. A few years back I found myself drinking 2 pots of coffee and smoking 1.5 packs of cigarettes per day to maintain a high level of functionality. (Yikes!!) Clearly, this was after initial doses of addictive stimulants stopped being sufficient to elicit the desired effect, such as is the case with ANY stimulant. I’ve since quit both and moved to mornings-only green tea.

      I strongly encourage you to read this opinion-editorial article published in the NY Times Magazine from a former Adderall user. This article gave me a powerful insight, perspective and deep understanding of the decisions I made in youth and later in life. Every person needs to make the best informed decision about her own medical care. I hope this addresses for you an aspect of stimulant medication that the medical community is generally remiss to mention.

      Also, I strongly empathize with the difficulties of ADHD life in the modern world. Please do not think that I wish to disparage your choice of medication. I just want to bring up long term considerations that are seemingly never publicly discussed.
      Also, I implore you and any other ADHD readers to NEVER use any drugs recreationally. (We have extremely high demographic rates of self-medication, in case other readers don’t understand the relevance of this point.) I have to suggest that this is totally imperative for successful long(er) term stimulant treatment as chemicals that act on the same systems will reduce the efficacy of your treatment much much faster than normal. Even so, you will almost certainly build up a tolerance to the stimulant over time and the psychiatrist will have to increase the dosage to maintain efficacy. Eventually, in the long term, you will not be able to take a larger dosage for medical safety reasons. I would also suggest that caution or abstinence be exercised with regard to caffeine and alcohol for the same reason. After many years of medication and self-medication, I have come to the personal conclusion that I should never monkey around with my neurotransmitter levels via exogenous compounds. That is, aside from respectful use of tea/caffeine.

      To your other concerns: To combat osteoporosis, USE your bones. Perform regular physical exercise and your bones will surely grow stronger. Do so regardless of your age. Just make sure to consume adequate calories and nutrition, use proper form during any high resistance exercises (crucial!), as well as pay attention to pain signals that may be indicative of injury. Muscles are supposed to ache when well exercised; this means they are growing and typically lasts 24-72 hours. Tendons, ligaments, nerves and other soft tissues should not ache, and require much more time to recover. Recovery periods for these tissues will typically be 1-6 weeks, during which you should abstain from exercises that involve the injured area. And of course, a serious injury (like hearing a “pop!” followed by excruciating pain) means you need to see a doctor. (Pay attention to your body.) Also, I am not a doctor, so “consult your doctor before beginning an exercise routine.” Or just get up and put in the work! Regular, consistent sessions is the key. Many programs (often TV advertised ones) are unrealistically intense and therefore people stop them right after starting. So, do something YOU find fun and feel safe doing. If you sit all the time your bones will deplete because your body says, “Well, I guess these things are just extra weight.” Healthier bones might even produce more blood cells.

    2. In retrospect, it occurs to me that because of your osteoporosis condition it would be especially prudent for you to consult with your doctor regarding appropriate level of exercise. Be safe, but get stronger! :-)

  17. It is nice that we know that exercise can counter ADHD symptoms. But the real value lies in asking 1) how and why this is possible and 2) what other kinds of things would have the same kind of benefit. All of this is off course precluded by a narrow search for medications that will have some effect on symptoms and constitute a great product for a business. There is not a great deal of common ground between making a business and healing people with health problems.

  18. I was wondering if there are any reliable studies or information on Equazen Pro, a dietary supplement that claims to balance omega 3s and benefit children with ADD/ADHD. It was suggested to me for my 6 year old son who exhibits many symptoms, honestly I’m not impressed with what I’m reading and it’s made primarily of fish. If Omega 3s do seem to be a consistent deficiency, could plant sources be used to do the same? Are there other vitamins that children with ADD/ADHD seem to be deficient in that would be beneficial to supplement? Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

    1. I’m Joan-NurseEducator a volunteer with and did a search on PubMed on use of omega-3 supplements in children. (No reliable source was available specifically evaluating Equazen Pro which already raises red flags. You are wise to be cautious about believing unsubstantiated claims, despite great marketing for this product.) When I searched for general article on Omega -3 suplementation in children, the studies do not strongly endorse use. Here are two studies you can review which indicate “mixed and, therefore, inconclusive result” “small effects’ and “No superiority of LC-PUFAs to placebo was observed on the primary outcome. Further, there were no reliable treatment effects on aggression, impulsivity, depression, and anxiety.” I’m afraid looking for a cure to a complex problem such as ADHD with a simple pill is not realistic, much as the advertisers can promise otherwise. If your son is eating a healthy whole food plant based diet, he’s getting the omega threes and vitamins he needs. The answers to dealing with ADD/ADHD are not found in supplements, as you rightly suspected. Best of success in trying the exercise approach suggested in “Treating ADHD without Stimulants.”

      1. Hi Joan,
        what if you searched for “DHA and children” or “DHA and ADHD”? There seem to be a few people who suspect that DHA may improve symptoms of Autism and ADHD…here are some studies that purport to show favorable results…Are any of these reputable or legitimate? I’m a parent of an ADHD kid. My child has been eating a mediocre diet for too many years – I’m now trying to remedy that. I also noted that Dr. Fuhrman feels that supplementation is important and optimal levels of Omega 3 improve behavior. I wonder if there are blood tests that can identify Omega 3 deficiency?? Thanks for listening and I hope NutritionFacts will do more investigation of this topic in the future.

        – Amminger GF et al. “Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation in children with autism.” Biol Psychiatry61:545-554 (2007).
        – Bent S et al. “A pilot randomized controlled trial of omega-3 fatty acids for autism spectrum disorder.” J Autism Develop Disorders 41:545-554 (2011)
        – Meguid NA et al. “Role of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the management of Egyptian children with autism.” Clin Bioch 41: 1044-1048 (2008)
        – Antalis CJ, Stevens LJ, Campbell M, et al: Omega-3 fatty acid status in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2006;75:299-308.
        – Transler C, Eilander A, Mitchell S, et al: The impact of polyunsaturated fatty acids in reducing child attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders. J Atten Disord 2010;14:232-246.

  19. I really wanted to e-mail this to someone as it’s quite an extensive inquiry…but the “contact us” page suggests I post my question in a comment on a video…so here goes.

    I saw the following post gaining traction on Facebook and became really curious about it. I myself suffer with ADHD and mild depression and found myself intrigued. I will copy and paste in quotes below:


    I’ve never been a fan of mind altering drugs. I spent my childhood on the equivalent of slow release cocaine(Ritalin)¹, and meth (Adderall)². Although I probably would not have made it through Elementary without them, I always felt like my true personality was silenced behind a piece of glass as I watched people make friends with a zombie who they thought was me. I have long been an ADHD advocate. I view my ADHD as a superpower, and I delight in telling people about how it plays an integral function in every society, even those that aren’t human; like honeybees³. I recently discovered a new treatment called amino acid therapy. While studying brain chemistry, I discovered that the amino acid L-tyrosine is the initial catalyst in the brain process that produces dopamine and norepinephrine, the chemicals that are deficient in the ADHD brain. Out of curiosity, I swung by GNC, and picked up a bottle for $10. I have tested its effects on my focus a few times and I must say it is the best medication I have ever used for that purpose. I am able to read faster, stay on task, and pay attention better than ever before! Not only do I not feel sedated, I actually feel a boost of energy during physical activities. The only two side effects I felt while only taking L-tyrosine were unprovoked random smiling, and a profound craving for milk. My craving for milk was so odd, that I researched that too. Apparently for L-tyrosine to cross the brain barrier, it has to attach to tryptophan, which is found in milk. I read online that most people who take L-tyrosine also take 5-HTP, a tryptophan supplement. I got some of it at Walmart for under $9. A fun fact about the tryptophan, just as L-tyrosine catalyzes dopamine and norepinephrine, tryptophan catalyzes serotonin… You know… The chemical that literally causes happiness. While taking them together, not only am I now experiencing new abilities to focus, but my anxiety is at an all time low, and I’ve ended a depression that I have been stuck in for over a year. I’m feeling social again, happy, and energetic. I sometimes wakeup before my alarm clock, not because I can’t sleep, but because I feel rested. I repeat, I FEEL RESTED! I haven’t said that in years!


    The ADHD brain is like a Ferrari with an empty gas tank. Ritalin and Adderall seek to swap the motor with one from a Prius, and Stratera would simply tow it down the road. Taking these vitamins are like putting fuel back in the tank.

    One last story:

    If your think these vitamins will only work if you have ADHD, you are wrong. The way it was successfully decreasing my anxiety, I decided to have my wife Jacqueline try some this weekend. I sent her a text telling her that I got caught speeding, but somehow didn’t get a ticket. She responded, “I want to be mad at you, but I can’t stop smiling!” She has been taking it for over a week now and says that she feels like the weight of anxiety has been lifted off of her chest.

    Since this is going viral, I want to add some information.

    Take them in a ratio of 1:10, so if you take 50 mg of 5-HTP, take 500 mg of L-tyrosine⁴.

    Follow the instructions: take 5-HTP before bed, and L-tyrosine in the morning, on an empty stomach.

    Do not take one without the other(still take them at separate time of day). Studies show that taking only one will cause a drop in brain chemicals produced by the other⁴. They work together.

    Accordingly, if you do research, research them together. For instance, one scientific study measuring ONLY L-tyrosine’s effect on ADHD showed an early improvement, then faded overtime⁵. This was due to it depleting serotonin levels. Another study that researched taking them both found that the 1:10 ratio effectively treated 67% of ADHD children, and by doing urine analysis and altering the dosage in the remaining children, they boosted that number to 77%⁶.

    It has been tested on children. This website shows the results and offers suggested dosages for both adults and minors as young as 4:!po=26.5957

    If you are afraid to try a general dose, there is a company called that can do urine screens to measure your neurotransmitters and then recommend a specific amino acid regiment to perfect your brain chemistry. There are also free questionnaires that you can take to do the same. They can be found at the bottom of this page

    Possible interactions

    Finally, I’m just a guy on Facebook. I have ADHD, and I’m studying to become a special education teacher, but I’m not a neurological specialist.I do not work for any of these companies. I receive no kickback. These amino acids are made by a bunch of different companies, and it is an unregulated market. Do your own research, use trusted brands, check for drug interactions, be careful, and good luck!

    ³ (remember, this was testing only L-tyrosine)

    Disclaimer: I am vegan and try my best to eat a whole foods plant-based diet…so his comment about milk didn’t help things.

    I refuse to take prescription drugs and I seem to just about manage without external help, but I can’t help but feel like I could be doing more for myself as I don’t want to “just about manage” anymore…

    For example, one thing I constantly struggle with is my lack of tolerance, which I do believe is a direct result of my anxiety/ADHD/depression. I get so frustrated so easily at small things, and this happens a number of times throughout a single day. As you can imagine, this lack of tolerance then leads me to feel bad about myself, wondering why I can’t tolerate things that “normal” people brush off easily throughout their day…and those thoughts lead to more depression, anxiety, and less tolerance. It’s quite a cycle.

    Anywho, the post I saw circulating Facebook really had me wondering, and I wanted to know from Dr. Greger’s (or one of his affiliates’) point of view, how legitimate this all is.

    Thanks in advance!

  20. I found 300 mg per day barely cuts it.  And, Dr. Gabor Mate may have the answer.  I grant Dr Gregor/Staff to edit my comkments as they see fit.

  21. Hello everyone
    Who knows the diet HAFER ?? Phosphated Diet … Does Dr. Greger have any scientific information on this subject to communicate to us? I have browsed the videos on the subject of adhd a lot of very interesting things are communicated there however, it seems to me not to have read articles on phosphorus products.

    thanks in advance
    super site
    super blog
    beautiful people
    thank you and do not change anything Dr. Greger

  22. I like the video, but I’m not a fan of the title. I see no reason to not try medication, unless it’s contraindicated (like certain heart conditions), in addition to exercise and psychosocial treatments.

  23. The reason not to try medication is there is no conclusive evidence that the medication provides any real benefit to the patient beyond placebo.

    Dr. Ben

  24. Just because someone is selling a medication does not necessarily mean there is actually any real patient benefit that outweighs the risks. Have you ever seen any unbiased, peer-reviewed controlled clinical trials (or meta-analysis) that proves that these medications actually, significantly benefit the patient without any significant risks? I have not, but I would like to see them if you know of any.

    Dr. Ben

  25. Hi Dr. Greger! I would love to see more videos covering ADHD as Im sure more research has come out since this video 6 years ago. My son is in a program called Brain Balance and we have seen some positive improvements. I can definately tell a difference for the next 3 days in his behavior after a day where we went significantly off the diet recommendations. The program involves dietary recommendations to avoid dairy, gluten, and sugar, as well as olfactory, hemi-physical stimulation (small weights on the Left wrist and ankle and barefoot on one side), music, and visual components designed to stimulate the Right hemisphere. This is a fantastic, whole child approach aimed at the root cause of ADHD as opposed to masking symptoms with medication, as they are looking for long term change rather than just getting through the day. I would like to understand what any new research has said about any dietary interventions as well as physical activity, music at 60 bpm in the L ear, visual processing stimulation etc that may help me have a deeper understanding of how I can guide my son’s development. I do physical therapy for a living and the science of the body fascinates me. Thank you for all you do! I enjoyed How Not to Die as well!

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