Treatment alternatives for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

L.E. Arnold
Journal of Attention Disorders
Vol. 3, No. 1, April 1999, pp. 30-48


Objective: To review alternate treatments (Tx) of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) - those other than psychoactive medication and behavioral/psychosocal Tx - for the November, 1998 National Institute of Health (NIH) Consensus Development Conference on ADHD.

Method: The literature was searched on Medline and Psychinfo 1963-1998 and investigators known to be interested in alternate Tx were contacted for unpublished data.

Results: Twenty-three alternate Tx were identified, ranging in scientific documentation from discrediting controlled studies through mere hypotheses to positive controlled double-blind clinical trials. Many of them are applicable only to a restricted etiological subgroup. The oligoantigenic or few-foods diet has convincing double-blind evidence of efficacy in multiple trials for a properly selected subgroup. Enzyme-potentiated desensitization to foods, relation/EMG biofeedback, and deleading also have controlled evidence of efficacy. Glyconutritional supplementation, iron supplementation, magnesium supplementation, Chinese herbals, EEG biofeedback, medication, mirror feedback, channel-specific perceptual training, and vestibular stimulation all have promising prospective pilot data. Single-vitamin megadosage has some intriguing pilot trial data. Zinc supplementation is hypothetically supported by systemic case-control data but has no systematic clinical trial. Laser acupuncture has promising unpublished pilot data. Essential fatty acid supplementation has promising systematic case-control data, but clinical trials are equivocal. Recommended-Daily-Allowance vitamin supplementation, nonChinese herbals, homeopathic remedies, and antifungal therapy have no systematic data in ADHD. Megadose multivitamin combinations are probably ineffective for most patients and possibly dangerous. Simple sugar restriction and hypnosis seem ineffective. Amino acid supplementation, though mildly effective in the short term, is not effective beyond a few weeks. Thyroid Tx is effective in the presence of documented thyroid abnormality, but not otherwise.

Conclusion: Some alternate Tx of ADHD are effective or probably effective, but mainly for restricted etiologic subgroups. In some cases they are the Tx of choice, and initial evaluation should consider the relevant etiologies. A few have failed to prove effective in controlled trials. Most need research to determine whether they are effective and/or to define the applicable subgroup. Some of them, though not safer than standard Tx, may be preferable for an etiologic subgroup.

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