Attention, and the lack thereof

A few days ago, a classmate from chiropractic school contacted me via Facebook.


“Hi Wei Wei, I hope you are doing wonderful! I’ve recently opened my own practice in Algoma, WI. A couple years ago you told me about some natural ADD supplements. I was wondering if you would tell me your recommendations for natural supplements. Thank you!”


I remember having this conversation with her when we were students. I shared that I had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and that as a child and much of early adulthood, I had managed it with medication. A few years prior to our conversation, I was speaking to another friend, who also had this condition and who told me that she had started using caffeine, in the form of coffee, to manage. I tried it, and it worked for me. I was thrilled. I started drinking coffee on the days I didn’t take medication, such as on weekends or on vacation. (To qualify this statement, in adulthood, my psychiatrist had told me that I didn’t need to take the medication every day, but only when I needed it. If you have prescribed medication(s), you’ll have to take it/them as instructed, which may not mirror the instructions I was given.) A few years later, another friend with ADHD (we have quite a community) revealed that she used rhodiola. I gave this a try, and was again elated when it worked for me.


And thus, I answered my colleague, “coffee and rhodiola,” but I made a mental note to look into this further. I have, and I would like to share with you what I’ve found. Natural Medicines is a database that “grades” complementary and alternative therapies on their efficacy. In other words, it summarizes the evidence and lets you know what chemicals and what methods have significant, limited, or no clinical research support to treat this, that, or the other condition. I did a search for ADHD and the following compounds and therapy are “possibly effective,” according to the current research evidence:


  • Fish oil: may improve attention, cognitive function, and behavior in children with ADHD
  • Massage (!): given for 2-4 weeks, can improve mood and behavior in children with ADHD
  • Zinc: can improve symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and impaired socialization in some children with ADHD; may NOT improve attention deficit


What’s missing? My recommendations, caffeine and rhodiola! In fact, Natural Medicines ranks caffeine as “possibly ineffective” in treatment of ADHD and its sequelae. The database has no commentary on rhodiola (!), in regards to the condition, implying that the research is sparse in this area, if not nonexistent.


What does this mean? I think this is a very poignant lesson in how powerful the placebo effect is. No matter our education level, there is so much more to learn. Prior knowledge can and should be modified with modern evidence. And in time, everything can gradually be illuminated.


Have you ever experienced a placebo effect? Let me know in the comments, or at your next appointment.

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