• What they are:
  • Extracted from French maritime pine bark or grape seeds, oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes (OPCs) are powerful antioxidants four times more potent than vitamin C in their ability to neutralize free radicals. Pycnogenol is a common brand name.
  • How they work:
  • Several studies have shown that OPCs improve symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Scientists speculate that OPCs' scavenging effect on free radicals especially benefits the brain because neurons, the brain's messenger cells, are rich in fatty acids that are vulnerable to free radical damage.

    In a 2006 study, researchers gave 61 children Pycnogenol or a placebo daily for four weeks. After one month, they noted a considerable reduction in hyperactivity in the children taking Pycnogenol, as well as improvement in attention, visual and motor coordination, and concentration. In contrast, children who were taking the placebo showed no positive changes. However, one month after the first group of children stopped taking Pycnogenol, their symptoms resurfaced, indicating that continued treatment is necessary (European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2006, vol. 15, no. 6).

  • Side effects:
  • Because OPCs have a blood-thinning effect, do not use while taking prescription blood thinners without consulting a doctor. A standard dose is 1 mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight.

Essential fatty acids

  • What they are:
  • Critical to virtually every bodily function, essential fatty acids (EFAs) are key building blocks for cell membranes. The brain contains high levels of specific EFAs called highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFAs), particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). The best dietary sources of HUFAs are cold-water fish (salmon, trout, and sardines) and flaxseed oil.
  • How they work:
  • Essential fatty acids play a vital role in the brain's transmission of signals that regulate moods and behavior. A significant body of research indicates that EFA deficiencies or imbalances contribute to ADHD.

    In a 2002 study from England, for example, researchers examined the effects of HUFA supplementation on 41 children with ADHD and learning difficulties. Half were given HUFA supplements, the other half a placebo. Researchers evaluated symptoms using information from the children's parents, who kept track of behaviors associated with ADHD. After 12 weeks, the children taking HUFA showed signs of significantly reduced cognitive and behavioral problems when compared with the placebo group (Progress in Neuro- Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 2002, vol. 26, no. 2).

  • Side effects:
  • EFAs are considered safe; take 1 to 2 grams daily. However, because EFAs have mild blood-thinning properties, consult a doctor if you use prescription blood thinners.


  • What it is:
  • A hormone produced by the pineal gland deep in the brain's center, this potent antioxidant regulates your internal body clock (circadian rhythm) and daily sleep/wake cycle.
  • How it works:
  • A popular supplement, melatonin provides relief from various sleep disturbances, such as insomnia and jet lag. Several studies also have demonstrated its usefulness for treating sleep problems in children with ADHD.

    A 2006 study focused on 27 children with chronic ADHD-related sleep difficulties (taking more than one hour to fall asleep). The children were given sleep hygiene therapy, which consists of simple behavioral changes, such as going to bed at a regular time and avoiding stimulating activities before bedtime. Only five children responded noticeably to behavioral changes alone. Nonresponders were then divided into two groups; half received 5 mg of melatonin while continuing the sleep hygiene therapy. During the 30-day trial, the combination therapy reduced sleep onset time by 16 minutes compared with those not taking melatonin supplements (Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2006, vol. 45, no. 5).

  • Side effects:
  • Melatonin is well tolerated, though high doses may reduce alertness during the day. A typical dose is 2 to 10 mg at bedtime.

Herbalist Laurel Vukovic lives in Ashland, Oregon, and has published nine books, including Herbal Healing Secrets for Women (Prentice Hall, 2000).