Drinking coffee may help treat ADHD, study says

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BARCELONA, Spain — Doctors may have an easy-to-fill prescription for people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) — more coffee. Scientists from the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya report caffeine may be a valid treatment option for certain ADHD symptoms.

ADHD is a psychiatric condition which can cause impulsiveness, difficulty concentrating, and general restlessness. ADHD diagnoses have increased exponentially, especially among children, in recent decades. For example, the CDC estimates over six million American children have the condition. However, despite the seemingly widespread nature of ADHD, doctors still can’t seem to agree on how to properly treat it.

One major hang-up is the fact that ADHD symptoms and severity vary greatly from person to person. Another is that popular ADHD drugs like Ritalin and Concerta can cause a number of side-effects.

So, in pursuit of a better way to treat ADHD, the research team looked into the possibility of using caffeine to alleviate some associated symptoms by performing a systematic review of animal studies. Ultimately, their analysis concludes the prescribed consumption of caffeine can indeed increase attention and retention capacity in both adolescents and adults diagnosed with ADHD.

“The therapeutic arsenal for alleviating ADHD is limited, and there is a certain degree of controversy around the use of some types of medications and stimulants, especially during childhood and adolescence. That’s why it’s useful to study the efficacy of other substances, such as caffeine,” explains co-study main author Javier Vázquez, a researcher in UOC’s Cognitive NeuroLab group, in a university release.

Concerns over more caffeine in kids

Study authors explain this is the first-ever systemic review at the cellular level connecting caffeine ingestion in various ADHD animal models with improved attention span, better concentration, learning benefits, and even memory improvements.

“This substance improves these types of cognitive procedures, and increases capacity and flexibility in both spatial attention and selective attention, as well as in working memory and short-term memory,” Vázquez notes, adding that “controlled treatment with this substance doesn’t alter blood pressure, and doesn’t lead to an increase or reduction in body weight.”

Despite their findings, the research team also cautions that the impact of caffeine on other common ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity and impulsivity are still very much unclear.

“The results are very positive, but we must be much more careful when prescribing a caffeine-based medical treatment for these symptoms. In diagnoses in which the problem is purely attentional, caffeine may be an appropriate therapy, but if there’s a symptomatological presence of hyperactivity or impulsivity, we must be more cautious,” Vázquez continues.

“Our results reinforce the hypothesis that the cognitive effects of caffeine found in animal models can be translated and applied in the treatment of ADHD in people, especially at young ages such as adolescence,” the researchers report.

Physicians don’t diagnose ADHD in adults nearly as often as they do in children. Consequently, many parents may have concerns about starting their child on a course of ADHD medications.

“We want to emphasize that we aren’t against medication for ADHD, but we’re open to investigating all possible alternatives for improving this type of disorder, and for being able to use caffeine from a therapeutic point of view with all the appropriate medical supervision, a prescribed treatment and follow-up,” Vázquez concludes.

The study is published in the journal Nutrients.

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John Anderer

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  1. Absurdity to expect ANYTHING to be ‘cured’ with physical means, for the ONLY causative power lies in the mind of ABSOLUTE STILLNESS.

    Example: Neither egg nor sperma exists seconds before the symbolic human body makes them appear FROM THE VOID as symbolism for creation in ZERO ‘time’, for all existence is SIMULTANEOUS: Evening AND morning, Alpha AND Omega, Root AND Offspring; here AND hereafter- all things are possible…

      1. OMG, Jetman. I laughed so hard at your comment. RIGHT!!! What in the world? Sidenote-Coffee helps tons with my ADHD.

  2. As someone with ADHD who self medicated with Monster Energy drinks before actually being diagnosed and prescribed a stimulant medication knew this. I don’t think this is a surprise to people with ADHD. However the side-effects of energy drinks and other forms of caffeine are worse than a prescribed medication like Ritalin.

    1. Energy drinks are chemical soup. The presence of caffeine doesn’t negate the rest of the stuff in them. They are not “forms of caffeine,” they’re junk food with added caffeine, and are best avoided. Coffee here refers to brewed black coffee, no sugar or fake creamers. In addition to caffeine, black coffee is also rich in antioxidants like polyphenols and flavonoids, plus water. Good stuff.

  3. Many of us with ADHD have been self medicating with caffeine for decades, when treatment is hard to get.

  4. My late wife believed in the use of coffee as necessary to “speed up” the child to allow them to bring themselves down to a manageable level.

  5. Interesting. I am 71 and adhd and drink coffee all the time. I find it relaxes me. But I do see some people that it excites. Caffeine is a drug and it effects people differently. Ever thought about as helping my adhd but in thinking about it it does.

  6. Ritalin, Concerta, and caffeine are all substances which affect mental performance; each has its good points and drawbacks. It is possible that caffeine is no worse than the others. What is needed is more time and studies to compare the effects.

  7. This shouldn’t be too surprising. ADD/ADHD is usually treated with some form of a CNS stimulant (Central Nervous System). Coffee is a CNS stimulant.

  8. This is a general rule-of-thumb that I learned many years ago-if a kid is suspected of being hyper, give ’em a cup of coffee. If they calm down, they’ve probably got it. If they don’t, well, the test isn’t entirely definitive. Just let ’em run until the caffeine is out of their systems.

  9. Mainly children are suffering sleep deprivation and cruddy diets. Doctors discourage milk and push juice which is full of sugar. Probably the rise in diabetes also….little pancreas’s can’t process six cups of juice a day in addition to other junk foods. No good proteins, either if the shopping carts I see are any gauge.

  10. No surprise for me. My son used to take prescription drugs for ADHD in high school. He hated them and discovered Mountain Dew helped, but without the side affects. Stopped taking the drugs, learned to self medicate with caffeine, and for the next twenty years never had any issues with ADHD.

  11. Uh, duh. The cure for ADHD is to take by mouth about 5mg of healthy adult male facial skin surface lipid pheromone, which is passed in kissing (Nicholson, B. Does kissing aid human bonding by semiochemical addiction? British Journal of Dermatology vol 111(5):623-7). Just “cook” it for about 10 hours at 104 degrees F under a fan to blow off most of the aversive lipophilic volatiles. It’s just the grease on your face, jerks. If you just let the kid kiss your face a little, all his/her symptoms will go away!

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