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Homeopathy: Is It Effective for ADHD?



Many families are looking for additional ways to address ADHD symptoms, including exploring some of the alternative or complementary approaches available in natural foods stores or online. Homeopathic preparations are readily available and most are dispensed without a doctor’s prescription.

Are these preparations good choices and do they hold up under the scrutiny of researchers? There have been some studies regarding homeopathic preparations as a possible treatment for ADHD but the evidence of their effectiveness is inconclusive at this point.

What is homeopathy?

Homeopathy was first developed in Germany more than 200 years ago based on the ideas of “like cures like” and “the law of the minimum dose.” Together, these ideas mean that if a substance is known to cause certain symptoms, then it could treat those symptoms when they occur in a person, while using the smallest amount of the substance as possible. These substances include herbs and common foods, minerals and animal-derived substances.  Many of the herbs have common uses in folk medicines or have been shown to have medical use when refined—but the dilution process used in homeopathy has very little of the active substance in the final product.

While this approach was popular at one time in the United States, it is not frequently used by medical professionals today and is considered an alternative approach to medicine. Homeopathic preparations are referred to as remedies, but although the ones sold over the counter are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, they are not evaluated for safety or effectiveness. FDA regulations only ensure the purity of ingredients and that the substance won’t kill you.

The claim:

Several commercially prepared homeopathic products and remedies make claims to improve ADHD symptoms. Additionally, some websites and blogs describe specific remedies as being useful as alternative or complementary approaches to managing ADHD symptoms.

The research:

We took a look at research from the past 10 years regarding homeopathic remedies and approaches for ADHD symptoms. There are several multi-study reviews looking for effectiveness in symptom relief.

Researchers in the United Kingdom reviewed collected studies for safety and effectiveness of the substances studied. These included individualized, clinical or formula homeopathy for ADHD in randomly assigned (to either a preparation or a placebo) studies.  After review, the researchers did not find any preparation that provided a significant effect on symptoms.

“There is currently little evidence for the efficacy of homeopathy for the treatment of ADHD,” the researchers report. 

Researchers reviewed 32 studies, including 22 studies with extractable data for meta-analysis. In cases where the remedies were prescribed for individual study participants, there were statistically insignificant improvements. However, the researchers write, “The low or unclear overall quality of the evidence prompts caution in interpreting the findings.” They encourage more and better constructed studies be undertaken.

Researchers conducted a double-blind study of 83 children diagnosed with ADHD; some children received the preparation being studied or a placebo for six weeks. At the end of the study, researchers saw evidence of improved symptoms as measured by a common rating system, especially concerning behavioral symptoms. The researchers did not include a suggestion for the approach studied, which looked at one substance, as a treatment approach. Not making a suggestion is common in research studies.

However, the question of a possibly effective homeopathic approach does remain open. The University of Toronto is recruiting participants for a study to determine whether:
  • there are any specific effects of homeopathic medicines in the treatment of ADHD
  • there any specific effects the homeopathic consultation alone in the treatment of ADHD
  • there is an overall effect of homeopathic treatment in the treatment of ADHD.

This is a follow-up study to a previous open label pilot study.  Researchers hope to better understand whether different elements of homeopathic intervention have a greater or lesser effect in treating ADHD.

The conclusion:

Although researchers continue to study various homeopathic approaches, an effective approach has not been identified. No research to date has shown reliable peer-reviewed evidence that homeopathy offers the same benefits as proven treatments, including behavioral management and medication management.

“At this point in time, I think we have to conclude that by the standards used to assess Food and Drug Administration-approved medications, homeopathic treatments don't work,” says Charles Raison, MD, of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine, answering the question for CNN’s Expert Q&A.

“Homeopathic approaches do not appear to work better than placebo treatments, so they don't work in any specific way for ADHD,” he says.

If you are interested in adding a homeopathic preparation or another complementary approach for ADHD to your treatment plan, or to your child’s treatment plan, discuss it with your doctor. Any complementary approach could include a risk of medication interaction or side effects, even when available over the counter. Additionally, you could delay proven effective treatment that you or your child could benefit from by opting for an alternative approach first.

You can find more research on this topic and other topics related to ADHD in our ADHD Research Library. Learn more about CHADD’s Levels of Evidence for ADHD Interventions.

For more information on homeopathy:



This article appeared in ADHD Weekly on November 23, 2017.
     


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