Effective ADHD supplement?

 Q: We saw this supplement at Costco and on Amazon and we were intrigued because our 5-year-old has been presenting some ADHD-like symptoms at school. It promises to ‘support memory, concentration and focus.’ Is it worth a shot before trying prescription drugs? Reviews online seem positive.

A: First it should be noted that 5-year-olds are rarely focused and often excited about their activities, even hyperactive at times. 

But if caregivers or teachers are truly concerned about symptoms that progress beyond the normal spectrum of behavior of a 5-year-old, this should be raised with the child’s primary-care clinician.

A diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one that requires medical concerns to be excluded as well as verification that symptoms are seen across all environments, including school, home, after-school activities, etc.

Finally, an ADHD diagnosis also requires testing that demonstrates a consistent and reliable pattern. 

If children are formally diagnosed with ADHD, the initial treatment plan isn’t medication.

A successful plan includes psychologist-backed strategies to assist kids with learning self-regulation, classroom and schoolwork/testing modifications (to capitalize on learning) and a structured home environment. 

Medication can be used to enhance focus, but it’s never the complete solution. 

The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t closely regulate over-the-counter vitamins, but the ingredients listed on the label that are likely claiming to “support memory, concentration and focus” are phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine

In limited preliminary studies of the two chemicals, a decreased risk of cognitive dysfunction in elderly people was reported along with claims of improved memory.

So far, the compounds haven’t been studied further and certainly not in children.

Though the supplement is unlikely to be harmful, and the FDA doesn’t require companies to verify the purity of the substances listed or to ensure that no other non-listed substances are present either.

Dr. Gigi Chawla is a board-certified pediatrician and the senior medical director of primary care at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Send your questions to gchawla@mnparent.com.