2 Secrets to Calmer, Smarter Kids

By Kerry Bone

I’m the first to admit that there’s not a lot of research on herbal treatments for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But I also believe that anything that can help keep children from a lifetime of personality-squelching drugs is well worth considering. And there are two herbs that look promising. Even though the clinical trials are still in the early stages, they’re options that every parent—and grandparent—needs to know about.

Natural cure-all tackles ADHD

The first came as a surprise to me—though maybe it shouldn’t have, considering its ever-expanding list of benefits. I’m talking about Pycnogenol, which is a proprietary, standardized extract of French maritime pine park (Pinus pinaster).

When news of it first emerged, its primary claim to fame was treating chronic venous insufficiency. From there, research showed that it could also alleviate asthma, eliminate migraines, reduce blood pressure, and lower blood sugar levels. And now studies also point to its ability to help naturally calm children with ADHD.

A pilot study found that Pycnogenol significantly improved ADHD symptoms in children taking it.1 This early evidence led to a double-blind, placebo-controlled study in 61 children, using the same dose (1 mg/kg/day) over the course of four weeks.2 The children were examined at start of trial, one month after starting treatment, and one month after the end of treatment period. Results showed that just one month of the pine bark extract caused a significant reduction of hyperactivity and improved the attention, coordination, and concentration of children with ADHD. No positive effects were found in the placebo group. A relapse of symptoms was noted one month after the children stopped taking the treatment, which shows that while Pycnogenol can help control the condition, it’s not a cure.

Researchers aren’t quite sure why it works, but the initial evidence indicates that it does. The same is true for the next herb showing potential for ADHD—Bacopa.

Better behavior—and a bonus

There are two particular controlled trials I want to share with you. The first involved an Ayurvedic herbal formulation called Mentat, which contains Bacopa (Bacopa monniera) as the main ingredient. This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial looked at the effects of Mentat vs. a placebo in 60 children with ADHD. The researchers assessed the children’s academic functioning and gave them psychological tests before and after the treatment. They found that the Mentat group showed significant improvement in both areas as compared to the placebo group.3

The other study examined the effects of Bacopa by itself. This double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study involved a total of 36 children. Nineteen received 100 mg/day of Bacopa extract for 12 weeks and 17 were given placebo. The herbal treatment was followed by a 4-week placebo period, making the total length of the trial 16 weeks in both groups. The research team evaluated the children using a battery of tests before, during, and at the end of the study. While the behavior results weren’t as clear, there were other striking improvements, including significant improvement on sentence repetition, logical memory, and learning after just 12 weeks in the children taking Bacopa. And this improvement was maintained for the whole 16-week study period—even after the children had been switched to the placebo. During the clinical trial Bacopa exhibited excellent tolerability and no treatment-related adverse effects were reported.4

Other studies support these learning-enhancement effects. For example, a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that 300 mg/day of Bacopa extract (about 6 g of dried herb) for 12 weeks significantly improved learning and memory consolidation.5 With those results in mind, Bacopa may be worthwhile even if your children or grandchildren don’t suffer from ADHD. KB

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