Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a brain disorder that involves inattention, hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, or all three.
The individual may find it hard to remain focused, and they may face challenges with organizational skills. They may find it hard to remember or to follow instructions, and this can lead to seemingly careless mistakes at work or school.
With attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the symptoms are chronic, so they can last for a long time. They may be severe enough to interrupt daily functioning, learning ability, social habits, and even relationships.
This article takes a look at whether essential oils can be used as a form of treatment for people with ADHD.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are natural oils from plants that are obtained by cold press extraction or distillation.
Essential oils are concentrated forms of compounds found in various plants. They are normally made through either cold press extraction or distillation.
In cold press extraction, a large amount of plant material is pressed using great pressure, until the natural compounds are released.
Distillation involves placing plant matter in a closed container and passing steam or water through it to extract the compounds within the plants. When the excess water is removed, the concentrated compounds that remain are called essential oils.
Essential oils aim to contain the highest possible concentration of beneficial compounds.
Many of these compounds are being used or studied for their potential in medicine.
Can essential oils help with ADHD?
Small studies and anecdotal evidence have suggested that some essential oils may benefit people with ADHD.
There is no evidence to suggest that essential oils can be harmful for people with ADHD. A healthcare provider may help a patient to experiment with some oils to see if they relieve symptoms.
Lavender essential oil
A person who is experiencing hyperactivity with ADHD may have trouble feeling relaxed enough to fall, or stay, asleep.
A recent study carried out at the University of Minnesota found that lavender essential oil may improve sleep.
The researchers studied the effectiveness of inhaling lavender essential oil for people with sleep issues.
Results indicated that those participants who inhaled lavender essential oil had a better quality of sleep than those who did not.
The use of inhaled lavender oil appeared to boost the well-being of the users over time.
Vetiver essential oil
If a person with ADHD is having difficulty staying focused, vetiver essential oil may help them to stay alert and on task.
A study posted to the Journal of Intercultural Ethnopharmacology has measured the direct effects that inhaling vetiver essential oil has on the brain.
Those who inhaled vetiver essential oil showed an increase in their attention levels, and this was reflected in measurements of brain activity.
The researchers noted that the effects of vetiver essential oil may be beneficial for learning and memory processes. It appears to have a stimulating effect even at low inhaled doses, and it may improve alertness and task performance.
Rosemary essential oil
1,8-cineole is one of the main compounds in rosemary oil. Studies may suggest that its use can increase cognitive performance.
The fresh scent of the common cooking ingredient rosemary may help to keep the mind sharp.
A study posted to Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology looked at the effects of one of the main compounds in rosemary essential oil, called 1,8-cineole.
The research showed that a higher concentration of this compound in the body resulted in better performance on cognitive tests.
The results were noted in both speed and accuracy. People with higher levels of the compound in their body described themselves as feeling more content.
More studies are necessary to confirm the findings.
Other essential oils
Other essential oils have been used by many people for many different symptoms of ADHD, with varying results.
Essential oils that may be useful include:
- Ylang ylang
One study reports that hospice patients who received a hand massage using oils containing bergamot, frankincense, and lavender, for example, felt relief from symptoms of depression, although the effect on the separate components was not studied.
Cedarwood oil is said to have sedative effects, while some claim that both lemon and frankincense oils can improve focus.
However, there is not enough scientific evidence to confirm the benefits.
How to use essential oils
Essential oils are highly concentrated and should therefore be used with care. Before starting to use any essential oil, a physician can advise about any possible interactions with other medications.
Here are three appropriate ways to use essential oils:
- Inhaling by adding a few drops to an aromatherapy diffuser
- Applying diluted oils topically, to be absorbed through the skin
- Putting a few drops into a full bath or a hand or foot bath
It is important to dilute essential oils with a carrier oil before putting them on the body. Examples of carrier oils include olive, coconut, and grapeseed oil.
The high concentrations of compounds in the oils can cause reactions if applied undiluted anywhere on the body.
It is also important to perform an allergy test. This test can be carried out by applying a small amount of the diluted mixture to a small area of the body, like the back of the hand.
If any signs of allergy such as redness or burning sensations occur, do not use the oil.
Using essential oils for children
Since a child’s body and immune system are still developing, extra care is needed when using essential oils.
Children under 10 years of age are advised not to use essential oils containing 1,8-cineole, such as eucalyptus, rosemary, or peppermint.
The compound can cause reactions in young children and should therefore be avoided.
Making lifestyle changes to support ADHD
Steady lifestyle changes such as exercise, including yoga, may help to focus and balance the mind.
Many people also find relief from ADHD symptoms by making steady lifestyle changes.
For example, drinking herbal teas such as chamomile may promote a calm state of mind.
Likewise, a diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids could lead to a decrease in ADHD symptoms.
Many people find relief from restlessness by exercising daily. Practices including meditation, yoga, and Tai chi may help to provide a more balanced state of mind.
Medical treatments for ADHD
Anyone who has been diagnosed with ADHD should discuss treatment options closely with a healthcare provider.
A physician will often prescribe stimulant drugs to treat ADHD. Stimulant drugs such as Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, Vyvanse, and Dexedrine have an effect on brain chemistry, which calms the patient’s mind. Nonstimulant drugs include Strattera.
There are side effects associated with most drugs used for ADHD.
It is important to work with a doctor in order to find the best treatment, and to discuss any alternative treatment options with the physician.