Adderall is one of the most well-known medicines for treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
More than that, Adderall is now being used by those without ADHD as well due to its properties as a cognitive enhancer. It is a powerful drug and it’s no easy task to replace its effects with natural alternatives.
However, there are certain natural supplements that help reduce ADHD symptoms without the adverse side effects of stimulant medications such as Adderall. These natural Adderall alternatives can be used by anyone wishing to improve their concentration, focus, and productivity.
Rather than rely on a single over-the-counter supplement, herb or spice, a combination of these may be more effective in giving you the results you desire, though be warned that none of them are as strong as Adderall.
But considering the negative consequences of long term Adderall usage, these natural alternatives are well worth a try. All the 15 choices mentioned here are scientifically proven to help with boosting cognition, mood, memory, focus, and/or energy.
What Is Adderall?
Adderall is a prescription medicine that comes under the class of medication known as stimulants. It contains two drugs: amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. It stimulates the Central Nervous System (CNS).
Adderall affects the chemicals in the brain and the nerve that affects hyperactivity and impulse control. It is used in treating ADHD, cognitive functions and narcolepsy (1).
ADHD is a chronic condition with attention difficulty, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity. A person with ADHD has differences in brain development and brain activity as compared to people who do not have ADHD.
As a stimulant, Adderall is the most prescribed drug. The doctors view it as the optimal solution for narcolepsy.
The Natural Alternatives to Adderall
Adderall is not a sustainable solution, neither for treating mental issues nor as a cognitive enhancer. It is illegal to order Adderall online.
Therefore the quest to search for an alternative without its side effect rages on. Using the natural alternative of Adderall can help us avoid these types of adverse effects.
We will be giving you a comprehensive list of these alternatives and it is recommended to read them properly and only use them after talking to your physician.
The natural supplements that stimulate the brain and improve the overall focus, concentration and cognitive function are listed below. They also have many other health benefits such as improving cholesterol levels, blood circulation, cardiovascular health, etc. depending on the herb or spice you choose (2).
Most of these are ingredients that can be easily added to your daily diet. Regular use of such herbs and spices will make a noticeable difference in your cognition and memory levels.
Some of the other choices mentioned below, such as Huperzine-A and Bacopa Monnieri, are available as dietary supplements that can be ordered online easily, if not available in health shops near you. Add them to your dietary regime as well to gain their significant health benefits.
15 Best Natural Over-the-Counter Adderall Alternatives
Here are the 15 best natural Adderall alternatives for children and adults (3).
Ginkgo Biloba has been recommended for a long time for improving our memory and increasing mental alertness. It is a herb that contains compounds that increase the blood velocity and preserve the neurotransmitters (4).
Ginkgo Biloba helps in reducing the symptoms of ADHD with fewer negative effects than Adderall. It has been shown to increase memory and increase the happy chemicals.
In one study, children took 240 mg Ginkgo Biloba extract for about three to five weeks. At the end of the study, they showed a marked reduction in ADHD symptoms with very few negative effects. Ginkgo has other health benefits too. It increases heart function, stabilizes immunity and lowers inflammation.
It should be borne in mind that Ginkgo Biloba interacts with certain medications such as the blood thinners. Also, people who have bowel diseases should not take Adderall.
Summary: Ginkgo Biloba increases happy chemicals in the brain and improves memory thereby exerting a positive effect on the mental alertness helping people with attention problems.
Caffeine stimulates the Central Nervous System and boosts the production of a neurochemical known as dopamine. Dopamine controls the body’s ability to focus and maintain concentration. The stimulation energizes the person (5).
Studies have found that caffeine can boost concentration in people with ADHD. It is a stimulant drug and can replicate the effects of stronger stimulants that are used to treat ADHD symptoms (6).
Caffeine is not recommended much though as it is considered addictive and may result in digestive disorder.
Summary: By stimulating the Central Nervous System and boosting dopamine production, caffeine helps in improving focus and concentration.
Bacopa Monnieri, also known as Brahmi is a plant that grows wildly in India. It is a staple plant found in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. The herb is made from the leaves and stems of the plants. There is strong evidence that Brahmi can be recommended for alternative treatment for ADHD.
Bacopa’s main active phytochemicals are bacosides, which are a class of saponins. It also contains other phytochemicals which include brahmine, nicotine, and another class of saponins called bacosides. Bacopa promotes neuron dendrite growth.
In a clinical trial, conducted in 2011 on rats, researchers found that Bacopa Monnieri supplementation leads to greater dendritic branching and an increase in the number of dendrite intersections (7).
An increase in dendrite branching observed after 4 to 6 weeks coincides with the improvement of cognitive functions. The bacosides in Brahmi are particularly responsible for this. In a 2013 study, it was found that adults consuming Brahmi showed improvements in their ability to retain new information (8).
In another study, participants taking a Brahmi extract showed improved performance in their memory and brain function.
Summary: The main active phytochemicals, bacosides in Bacopa Monnieri promotes neuron dendrite growth, which improves cognitive functions.
L-theanine is an amino acid that is mostly found in green tea leaves.
L-theanine is a compound that comes under the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) substances recognized by U.S.Food and Drug Association.
It helps to balance the chemicals in the brain and create a state of focus (9).
Adderall may cause anxiety and jittery feeling but L-Theanine increases energy and reduces the stress level simultaneously. It can be taken in pill form, powdered form and absorbed simply by having a warm cup of green tea (10).
Summary: L-theanine found majorly in green tea leaves help balance the brain chemicals and create focus.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid that covers and protects the brain cells and carries messages between them. It is thought to aid in the formation and recollection of our memory. PS combats mood disorder, depression and reduces the perceived feeling of anxiety.
As the effect is very similar to that of Adderall, PS is considered an effective substitute. Apart from being excellent for overall brain health, it is a safe and effective over the counter Adderall alternative.
A 2-month study in children with ADHD, supplementing with phosphatidylserine showed significant improvements in impulse control and auditory memory (11).
Several more studies, over the year, linked PS supplementation in processing speed and incredible accuracy in healthy adults. It has been successfully shown that phosphatidylserine is indeed an excellent non-prescription alternative to Adderall.
Summary: Phosphatidylserine (PS) is considered to be an effective substitute for Adderall because it can combat mood disorder, and reduces the feeling of anxiety which are certain symptoms of ADHD.
Rhodiola Rosea is an adaptogenic herb that is grown in the cold mountainous region of Europe and Asia. The roots contain more than 140 ingredients that are active and the two most potent are rosavin and salidroside. It has neuroprotective properties that help in brain functioning and improving focus.
Adaptogens have the ability to protect organisms from all kinds of stressors. Studies have concluded that people with ADHD have less dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine and elevating their level enhances alertness that ADHD lacks.
Rhodiola Rosea supports brain function by enhancing the reticular activating system that elevated the level of these neurotransmitters.
Studies have supported the fact that Rhodiola Rosea helps in many aspects of cognitive processing. It has been proved that Rhodiola Rosea can reduce stress, can fight fatigue, can help reduce symptoms of depression (12).
Summary: Rhodiola Rosea contains two most potent ingredients, rosavin, and salidroside that have neuroprotective properties, that improve focus.
Alpha GPC is a chlorine compound that is found naturally in the brain. It is isolated from soya. It is a type of fat also found in eggs, cheese, yogurt, and milk.
Research supports its role in enhancing cognitive function, stimulating the release of growth hormone (13).
Administration of Alpha-GPC supplementation increases the release of acetylcholine which is a neurotransmitter that facilitates learning and memory. It influences muscle control and energy production (14).
Alpha GPC is a nootropic which means that it makes the brain stronger. It gives a sufficient amount of raw material to the brain to make acetylcholine which is a very important neurotransmitter.
Studies have concluded that the intake of Alpha GPC by ADHD has helped them with concentration and good memory (15).
Summary: Alpha-GPC is a chlorine compound that releases neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, thereby stimulating and enhancing cognitive function.
This is a normal biochemical process in the cell membrane. Citicoline is either taken by mouth or given as an injection to assist with memory loss because of aging, to improve the vision in people who are suffering from glaucoma and for the recovery of people who have had a stroke.
Citicoline was developed originally in Japan for stroke. It increases the brain chemical called phosphatidylcholine, which is important for brain function. Citicoline may also decrease damage to brain tissue when the brain is injured.
Citicoline may play an important role in minimizing the effects of memory loss. It has been used regularly in improving learning faculties and boosting attention.
It has been found to improve the neuronal membrane integrity overall which leads to a decrease in neuronal death.
Summary: Citicoline, increases the brain chemical phosphatidylcholine, which improves learning faculties and boosts attention.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
60 percent of our brain is made up of fat and thus our brain depends upon a steady supply of dietary fat. It depends upon the essential fatty acids which are the building blocks of fat. The two most important essential fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Fatty fish and fish oil supply them.
Studies have found that low levels of these EFA results in the:
- Degeneration of the outer covering of the brain cells
- Production of less serotonin by neuron, that helps control mental activity and mood
- Fewer branches of the dendrites
- Fewer synapses that are the bridges between the neurons
- Malformation of the cellular receptors for the neurotransmitter, dopamine
Starting from prevention to the treatment, omega-3 plays a crucial role in ADHD. It has been observed that supplementation with omega-3 decreases hyperactivity in ADHD, less inattention, less hostility, and less disobedience has been detected.
An Israeli researcher studied 78 ADHD children between the ages (9-12 years) with sleep problems. Some of them were given EFA and some placebo. After 10 weeks, children taking the supplement slept better, were less fatigued and were in a better situation to cooperate with others (17).
Summary: By boosting the fat layer of our brain, omega-3 fatty acids help decrease hyperactivity in ADHD.
L-Tyrosine is the amino acid that produces three essential neurotransmitters: norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin. These three neurotransmitters are responsible for important memory functions, mood, muscle coordination, and appetite.
Tyrosine produces dopamine with the help of Vitamin C, folate, Vitamin B6, iron, and tetrahydrobiopterin (18). Studies have shown that low amounts of dopamine levels impairs focus and attention. Children suffering from ADHD suffer from low levels of Tyrosine.
As dopamine is responsible for controlling the flow of information to the other parts of the brain that occurs in the frontal lobe. Hence intake of L-tyrosine supplement helps in mood regulation and proper function of the memory.
Summary: By producing important neurotransmitters, tyrosine improves memory functions and increases focus and attention.
5-HTP works in the brain and the central nervous system. It increases the production of the neurotransmitter, serotonin. It is synthesized into serotonin without any biochemical feedback.
It is used in managing several diseases where serotonin plays an important role. This includes depression, insomnia, obesity, Down Syndrome, Cerebellar ataxia, Alzheimer’s disease and many more (19).
In April 1995, the nutritional supplement 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) became available over the counter in the USA.
5-HTP serves the only purpose of being converted into serotonin. As 5-HTP easily permeates the blood-brain barrier, its bioavailability confirms serotonin production efficiently and faster.
Summary: 5-HTP increases the production of serotonin which helps to deter ADHD symptoms.
Huperzine A is a chemical that is extracted from the Chinese Club moss plant. It is a herbal nootropic supplement that is popular in Chinese medicine known for its cognitive function improvement in children as well in adults (20).
Huperzine A benefits the brain by increasing the level of acetylcholine indirectly.
Acetylcholinesterase is a chemical that is responsible for breaking down the acetylcholine in the brain. Huperzine A has been classified as an inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase.
As huperzine inhibits the breakdown, there is an acetylcholine buildup in the brain that enhances learning, attention, and focus.
Huperzine A is legal and absolutely safe to use for the treatment of ADHD. If combined with Alpha-GPC, it has shown to be more potent in boosting cognitive functions.
Summary: Huperzine A inhibits acetylcholine, a chemical in the brain, and enhances learning, attention, and focus.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA is a neurotransmitter that sends the chemical messages in the brain and the Central Nervous System. It is also responsible for regulating the communication between the brain cells (21). GABA generally inhibits or reduces the neuron activity to which it binds.
Researchers believe that the purpose of GABA is to control the fear or anxiety that is experienced when neurons are overexcited.
GABA is an amino acid that calms the brain. Certain medications increase GABA but are not recommended for routine use.
These medications are Xanax, Ativan, and Valium. It is better to increase GABA by increasing the amino acids and supplementing the body with niacin and theanine. They cross the blood-brain barrier more easily than GABA.
People suffering from ADHD have shown to have a low level of GABA. As lower levels of GABA also result in insomnia, it can have an adverse effect on ADHD people as sleeplessness worsens the symptoms.
This has led to the discovery that GABA supplements are a safe and natural alternative for Adderall in adults and children.
Intake of GABA for ADHD can help moderate neural activity and increases the level of serotonin. High levels of serotonin control mood swings and reduce anxiety and stress.GABA can diminish irritability, aggression and some other behavioral problems that are associated with ADHD.
Summary: GABA is a neurotransmitter that calms the brain and hence can help in reducing irritability, aggression and other behavior that are ADHD problems.
The extract of French Maritime Pine Bark is known as the Pycnogenol. It is used as a natural supplement for different conditions. One such is ADHD.
Pycnogenol contains active ingredients called proanthocyanidins, that are found in grape seed, peanut skin, nuts, wine, cocoa, tea, and witch hazel bark.
A 2006 study, studied the effects of its antioxidant activity on oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is considered to be one of the nongenetic factors that contribute to ADHD. Children taking pycnogenol substitute for one month showed a healthy antioxidant level and that in turn helped combat the damage from oxidation (22).
It was also confirmed in a study in 2013, that pycnogenol can help in reducing the damage to the nerve cells in case of a traumatic brain injury (23).
According to the National Institute of Health, it is safe for adults to take 50 to 450mg of pycnogenol regularly for a year. Some people who are taking pycnogenol may experience bad breath, sores in the mouth, dizziness, and stomach upset. It is advisable to start taking it in accordance with the guidance of your doctor.
Summary: Pycnogenol contains active ingredients that have antioxidant activity and can reduce the damage to the nerve cells.
As mentioned earlier, oxidative stress is a factor that contributes to ADHD. Chronic stress disrupts learning in the brain and impairs memory. Antioxidant foods are known to help reduce the associated nerve damage.
Saffron has powerful antioxidant properties due to the presence of compounds such as crocin, picrocrocin, and safranal (26, 27). These are the compounds that offer saffron its unique aroma, flavor, and color. The kaempferol (a flavanol) content of saffron also adds to its antioxidant capabilities (28).
Summary: Fondly called the ‘sunshine spice’, saffron is a mood enhancer. Saffron has been found to be as potent as modern medications for treatment of depression (29). Saffron reduces anxiety and improves mood (30, 31).
The Side Effects of Adderall
Adderall is considered as one of the best for boosting focus, aiding in performance and improving concentration. Adderall tablets have been approved for treating ADHD in children aged 3 years and older. Adderall tablets may be prescribed for children suffering from narcolepsy, aged 6 years and older.
However, it needs to be borne in mind that Adderall has side effects that may range from hyperthermia, hypoglycemia, tremors to serious conditions like an increase in stroke volume. Depending on the duration of taking it, side effects vary.
The Short Term Side Effects of Adderall
When given for a shorter period, it has a positive effect on counteracting symptoms of ADHD. It increases the availability of the neurotransmitters, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain. These chemicals boost alertness and attention (32).
Adderall also opens up the breathing passages, decreases the blood flow, and increases heart rate.
Similar to the experience of cocaine users, it can cause feelings of energy and invigoration. Even though it is a prescription medicine, it has several negative short term effects that include:
- Irritability, agitated and aggressive behavior
- Dry mouth
- Appetite suppression leading to unhealthy weight loss
- Heart palpitation
- Potentially dangerous cardiac problems
- Slowed speech
- Change in vision
The Long Term Side Effects of Adderall
Long term negative effects of Adderall (33) includes:
- Erratic behavior
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Physiological disorder
- Abnormal blood pressure level
- Irregular heartbeat
So it is best to try out natural alternatives to Adderall along with the following remedies to overcome symptoms of ADHD.
9 Natural Remedies For ADHD: Treatment Without Medication
Before resorting to any kind of medication, there are several lifestyle modifications and natural remedies that should be attempted.
A combination of these can prove to be tremendously effective in improving concentration and focus in adults, as well as children, with ADHD.
Behavioral therapy is an effective treatment for ADHD and has the power to improve the child’s behavior and self-control.
It is most effective when delivered by the parents to young children. Experts recommend the healthcare providers to refer to this treatment to children below 12 years.
It is also recommended that children below the age of 6 years should be recommended this training before putting them on any kind of ADHD medication.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a self-instructional training that is administered in a group or individually to help people suffering from ADHD. It is a more planned and reflective approach to thinking, behaving and interacting socially.
It teaches individuals to adopt a more systematic and goal-oriented approach to do everyday tasks and activities. It helps in problem-solving and academic functioning.
Protein for ADD and ADHD
When we eat protein, the body makes the brain awakening neurotransmitters from it, the chemicals that are released by the brain cells to communicate.
Foods that are rich in protein like poultry, fish, egg, beans, nuts, soy, low-fat dairy products and lean beef may have beneficial effects on ADHD.
Protein also prevents the blood sugar surges that increase hyperactivity and impulsivity.
Zinc for ADHD
Iron, zinc, magnesium, Vitamin C and vitamin B6 are very important for healthy brain function. Zinc regulates neurotransmitter dopamine that occurs in insufficient amounts in ADHD brains.
Studies have found that zinc supplements reduce hyperactivity in ADHD (34). Foods that are high in zinc are beef, shrimp, pumpkin seeds and spinach.
Iron for ADHD
Supplemental iron should be taken with the guidance of your doctor as high levels can be dangerous. Eating food that is rich in iron like red meat, green leafy vegetables increase the iron level without the risk.
Studies have confirmed that low iron levels contribute to ADHD symptoms. Children with ADHD have naturally lower ferritin levels that store iron in the blood (35). It showed that when children with ADHD took iron supplements for 12 weeks, they showed symptom improvement.
Magnesium For ADHD
Magnesium is an inorganic material that is important for brain function. Magnesium has the ability to increase the neurotransmission by endogenous serotonin receptors (5-HTA).
The availability of magnesium in the body affects the function and binding of neurotransmitters to their respective receptors, dopamine, and serotonin (36).
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency are difficulty with concentration, irritability, insomnia, depression, and anxiety.
As most of the ADHD have a magnesium deficiency, all the ADHD mostly children can benefit from magnesium supplementation.
Vitamin B6 And Vitamin C For ADHD
The brain uses Vitamin C to make dopamine and norepinephrine. Foods such as oranges, kale, tangerines, and red peppers are high in Vitamin C. In case the vitamin is not sufficiently available through food, daily supplements can be taken.
Deficiency of Vitamin B6 can cause irritability and fatigue in people suffering from ADHD. Adequate B6 level received from a balanced diet or a supplement may increase alertness and decrease anxiety (37). Foods that are rich in Vitamin B6 are spinach, salmon, bananas and wild-caught tuna.
Exercise for ADHD
Exercise results in increased dopamine production which improves attention and focus in people with ADHD.
Exercise also produces endorphins that make you feel good. Exercise directs the energy positively and helps children and adults with ADHD to get rid of restless energy.
In other words, exercise has the same effect on the brain as the stimulant Ritalin.
Brain Training Programs/Neurofeedback For ADHD
Some researchers think that brain training programs may improve focus and help other symptoms of ADHD. It is called neurofeedback or EEG biofeedback.
The idea is for your child to learn how it feels to concentrate. It gives him more control to create brain waves that can reduce the symptoms of ADHD.
The Final Note
Adderall is a prescription drug that is FDA approved and is used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. It increases the activity of the neurotransmitter, the brain chemicals. By increasing that, Adderall increases alertness, energy, and focus.
Even though it is very effective, Adderall can have several physical and mental side effects which include anxiety, headache nausea, hallucination, and weakness. As it is also a high potential for abuse, search for a natural alternative to Adderall started.
Although none of the natural substances can imitate the powerful effect of Adderall, several natural stimulants exist.
Some of them are citicoline, huperzine-A, omega-3-fatty acids, L-tyrosine, alpha-GPC and so on. We have attempted to discuss 14 such natural stimulants that are effective with very few side effects. Although they are derived naturally, potential drug interaction and side effects should be properly discussed with a medical professional before use.