Caffeine may be beneficial in the treatment of attention and memory issues in ADHD

According to a recent assessment of research in animal models of ADHD, caffeine may be beneficial in the management of cognitive symptoms such as deficiencies in attention, learning, and memory in people who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The evidence on the effects of caffeine on hyperactivity and impulsiveness was conflicting, indicating that caffeine may not be appropriate for persons with ADHD who exhibit these specific symptoms of the disorder.

Universitat Oberta de Catalunya researcher Javier Vázquez, who worked on the study with his colleagues, explains why they opted to investigate the effects of caffeine:

“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.”

The researchers’ goal was to compile a list of current studies that investigated the therapeutic benefits of caffeine in animal models of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The study was published in the Journal Nutrients.

Stimulants and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Adolescent and adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health problem. According to a national study conducted in 2016, 9.4 percent of children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 17 in the United States were diagnosed with ADHD. According to Trusted Source, the prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among adults in the United States was 0.96 percent in 2016, compared to 0.43 percent in 2007, yet adult ADHD remains underdiagnosed.

An individual with ADHD will have difficulties retaining concentration, will be hyperactive or restless, and will engage in impulsive conduct. There are three basic subtypes of ADHD, with the most prevalent subtype being characterized by the presence of all three symptoms in the same individual. Both of the other categories are characterized by symptoms of inattention without hyperactivity or by signs of hyperactivity and impulsiveness without hyperactivity.

Stimulants such as methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) and amphetamines are among the most commonly prescribed drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The popular assumption is that stimulants, such as Ritalin, aggravate hyperactivity in those with ADHD. In fact, drugs such as Ritalin have been shown to have a calming impact on these individuals.

ADHD symptoms are related with a decrease in the amounts of certain brain chemicals or neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. When taken in high doses, stimulants like methylphenidate have been shown to restore normal levels of these chemical messengers, in particular by boosting levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates the capacity to concentrate. That these drugs have a calming impact on ADHD persons may be due to this paradoxical effect.

Long-term use of stimulants such as Ritalin for the treatment of ADHD symptoms appears to be safe and effective in most cases; nevertheless, some people with ADHD may have difficulty tolerating these drugs.

Its method of action distinguishes it from other stimulants, and it has the potential to serve as a viable alternative to the stimulants now in use to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Dr. Lidia Zylowska, a psychiatrist at the University of Minnesota Medical School and author of “The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD”, said that many individuals with ADHD use caffeine as a self-medication, and learning more about caffeine’s effects on persons with ADHD will help us understand who/how could benefit from caffeine or not.

When asked why coffee can be a useful alternative to prescription medicine in some situations, Dr. Zylowska explained that in terms of its molecular profile, caffeine stands out, and it may be a viable alternative for people who do not benefit from or cannot handle traditional ADHD drugs. In the ADHD toolbox, we’re continuously looking for new tools.

She did, however, point out that the number of research on caffeine and ADHD patients was tiny, restricted, and mostly out of date, with the majority of them being preclinical animal experiments.

Efficacy of caffeine in improving cognitive performance

Caffeine has been shown to have an adverse effect on the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in 13 animal studies done since 2005.

According to the findings of the review, caffeine medication can help to minimize the attention and other cognitive processes deficiencies that are common in ADHD.

Adolescent and adult animals with ADHD-like symptoms benefited from caffeine therapy in terms of olfactory discrimination, attention, learning, memory retention, short-term memory, and working memory.

Aside from that, therapy with caffeine did not cause any changes in body weight or blood pressure, which are two of the main concerns linked with stimulant medication.

However, in contrast to the effects of caffeine on cognitive performance, the evidence on the influence of caffeine on hyperactivity was conflicting in nature. The effects of coffee on hyperactivity were also affected by the participants’ age and gender.

There was just one study in the review that looked at the effect of coffee on impulsive behaviors. After a brief period of caffeine therapy, the researchers discovered that impulsivity was reduced, but that the behavior returned after a longer period of time.

Caffeine does not appear to have a clear effect on hyperactivity and impulsivity in ADHD, which implies that it may be most effective for treating those whose symptoms are primarily characterized by attention problems.

In addition, the research reported in the review discovered that caffeine therapy restored brain indicators associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD). When it comes to dopamine and serotonin, coffee has been shown to raise the levels of these neurotransmitters, which are lower in those with ADHD.

Caffeine as a treatment for ADHD

According to animal models, caffeine has the capacity to reduce cognitive symptoms and improve brain markers associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This implies that caffeine may be useful in the management of ADHD symptoms in people.

However, the authors point out that further study is needed to confirm these findings before caffeine may be used as a therapy for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD).

Doctor Mark Stein of Seattle Children’s Hospital, director of the ADHD and Related Disorders Program, explained that studies in humans have found that caffeine has a mild beneficial effect on ADHD symptoms, but that there is a great deal of variability in response, time course, and tolerability problems, including sleeping problems, with caffeine use.

Moreover, he stated that the majority of people with ADHD needed “more extensive and powerful therapies.”

“For those with subclinical ADHD or mild ADHD symptoms, caffeine could play a role. However, caution should be used in generalizing safety and efficacy data from animal studies to humans with ADHD who have both symptoms and impairment in their functioning,” said Dr. Mark Stein.

Fernanda Avila

Fernanda Avila is a freelance writer who's passionate about providing accurate and helpful mental health content for readers. She believes sharing information can help raise awareness and improve society wellbeing.

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