Natural SSRI Alternatives for ADHD Support

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. It is most commonly diagnosed in children, but it can also persist into adulthood. While selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often prescribed for the treatment of ADHD, some people prefer natural alternatives due to concerns about side effects or a desire to explore alternative treatment options.

In this article, I will explore natural alternatives to SSRIs for the treatment of ADHD. I’ll review the basics of ADHD, the role of SSRIs in traditional ADHD treatment, and the search for natural alternatives. I’ll also cover the potential of diet, supplements, lifestyle adjustments, and mindfulness techniques as alternatives to SSRI medication in managing ADHD symptoms.

Key Highlights

  • Saffron, Zembrin®, St. John’s Wort, and other natural products can be effective alternatives to SSRIs for the treatment of ADHD.
  • These natural alternatives have fewer side effects and are generally well-tolerated.
  • Dietary changes, such as consuming omega-3 fatty acids and avoiding certain foods, can play a role in managing ADHD symptoms.
  • Supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, zinc, and iron can provide additional support for brain health and cognitive function.
  • Lifestyle adjustments, including regular physical exercise and structured routines, can help manage ADHD symptoms.
  • Mindfulness and relaxation techniques, such as meditation and yoga, can improve focus and reduce stress in individuals with ADHD.

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Understanding ADHD and the Role of SSRIs

ADHD is a mental health condition that affects both children and adults. It is characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. According to the CDC, it affects 10% of children and almost 5% of adults.

SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are a class of antidepressant medications commonly used in the treatment of depression and other psychiatric disorders. They work by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain, which helps regulate mood and behavior. In some cases, SSRIs are also prescribed off-label for the treatment of ADHD, as they can help improve focus and reduce impulsivity.

The Basics of ADHD in Adults and Children

In children, ADHD is typically characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Adults often experience similar symptoms, but they may present differently and can include difficulties with organization, time management, and impulsivity.

ADHD is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and it is often diagnosed during childhood. However, many people continue to experience symptoms into adulthood. The exact cause of ADHD is still unknown, but it is thought to involve imbalances in certain neurotransmitters, including dopamine and norepinephrine.

The diagnosis of ADHD is typically made by a healthcare professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, based on a thorough evaluation of symptoms and medical history. Treatment for ADHD often involves a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle adjustments, though many parents find they can help their children with natural therapies, as well.

How SSRIs are Traditionally Used in ADHD Treatment

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of drugs typically used to treat depression and anxiety disorders by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain, which can help improve mood, sleep, and anxiety. However, their use in treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is less direct and more nuanced.

ADHD is primarily characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. The most common treatments for ADHD are stimulants like methylphenidate and amphetamines, which primarily affect dopamine and norepinephrine pathways in the brain to improve focus and attention. However, not all patients respond well to these treatments or may experience undesirable side effects. In such cases, alternative treatments, including SSRIs, may be considered.

The rationale for using SSRIs in ADHD treatment lies in their potential to address comorbid conditions that can accompany ADHD, such as depression and anxiety, which are common among individuals with ADHD. By treating these comorbid conditions, SSRIs can indirectly contribute to an overall improvement in the individual’s condition and quality of life, though they may not directly target ADHD symptoms.1Biederman, J., & Spencer, T. (2008). Psychopharmacological interventions. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics, 17(2), 439-458. This article reviews various psychopharmacological interventions for ADHD, including the use of SSRIs in cases with comorbid depression and anxiety.

Here are some points highlighting the role of SSRIs in treating ADHD:

  • Comorbidity Management: Many individuals with ADHD also suffer from depression and anxiety. SSRIs can effectively manage these comorbid conditions, potentially improving the individual’s overall mental health and making it easier to manage ADHD symptoms.
  • Indirect Benefits: By alleviating depression and anxiety, SSRIs may indirectly affect ADHD symptoms by improving sleep patterns, reducing irritability, and enhancing overall mood stability, which can indirectly improve focus and attention.
  • Alternative Treatment Pathways: For some individuals, particularly those who are sensitive to the side effects of stimulant medications or for whom stimulants are contraindicated, SSRIs provide an alternative treatment pathway.
  • Holistic Approach: The use of SSRIs in ADHD underscores the importance of a holistic approach to treatment, recognizing and addressing the wide range of psychological factors and comorbid conditions that can affect individuals with ADHD.

The Search for Natural ADHD Treatments

While SSRIs can be effective in managing ADHD symptoms for some people, others may prefer natural alternatives due to concerns about side effects or a desire to explore alternative treatment options.

The search for natural ADHD treatments, including alternative therapies, has gained traction in recent years, as more people are turning to alternative medicine and seeking natural remedies for various health conditions in the United States. Interest remains in finding effective natural alternatives to traditional pharmaceuticals, such as SSRIs, that can provide relief from ADHD symptoms without the potential risks and side effects.

Why Natural Alternatives? The Push Away from Pharmaceuticals

Several reasons exist as to why people look for natural alternatives over traditional pharmaceuticals for the treatment of ADHD.

One of the main concerns is the potential for side effects associated with prescription medications. SSRIs, like any medication, can cause adverse effects, and some people may be more susceptible to these side effects or have a history of negative reactions to medication. This is why it is important to consider alternative treatments.

Another reason for the push towards natural alternatives is the desire to explore alternative treatments that are perceived as safer and more in line with a holistic approach to health.

Many natural remedies, such as dietary changes, supplements, and mindfulness techniques, focus on supporting overall well-being and promoting a healthy lifestyle, rather than simply targeting specific symptoms. This shift towards natural treatments, along with the increasing popularity of herbalists, naturopaths, and other healers, is also accompanied by a critique of natural remedies and their effectiveness in treating mental health conditions.2Mischoulon D. (2009). Update and critique of natural remedies as antidepressant treatments. Obstetrics and gynecology clinics of North America36(4), 789–x.

The Potential of Diet, Lifestyle, and Mindfulness in Managing ADHD

Diet, lifestyle, and mindfulness techniques can significantly help manage ADHD symptoms and promote overall well-being. While these approaches may not provide a complete solution for everyone, they can complement other treatment strategies and contribute to a holistic approach to ADHD management.

Dietary changes, such as incorporating essential nutrients and supporting the gut microbiome, can help support brain health and improve mood and cognition. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish and certain plant-based sources like fish oil, have been shown to have positive effects on brain function and can be beneficial for individuals with mental disorders such as ADHD.

Avoiding certain foods that may trigger ADHD symptoms, such as processed foods, artificial additives, and food sensitivities, can also be helpful in managing symptoms.

Lifestyle adjustments, including regular physical exercise, structured routines, and adequate sleep, can improve focus, reduce hyperactivity, and promote overall well-being in individuals with ADHD. Mindfulness techniques, such as mindfulness meditation and yoga, can help adults and children with ADHD improve focus, reduce stress, and enhance self-regulation skills.

Dietary Changes as a Foundation for Natural ADHD Management

Dietary changes can serve as a foundation for natural ADHD management by providing essential nutrients and supporting overall brain health and function.

Nutrition plays a crucial role in the brain’s development and function, and certain dietary factors can influence mood, cognition, and behavior. By making targeted dietary changes, people with ADHD can support their brain health and potentially reduce the severity of their symptoms.

Essential Nutrients and Foods That Support Brain Health

Certain nutrients and foods have been found to positively impact brain health and can support the management of ADHD symptoms. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon and sardines, flaxseeds, and walnuts, have been shown to have beneficial effects on brain function. They can help reduce inflammation and support cognitive function.

Other essential nutrients, such as iron, zinc, and magnesium, are also important for brain health and can play a role in managing ADHD symptoms.

Iron deficiency has been associated with ADHD-like symptoms, and ensuring an adequate intake of this mineral can help support cognitive function. Zinc is involved in neurotransmitter function and can help regulate mood and behavior. Magnesium has calming properties and can help reduce hyperactivity and improve focus.

Including nutrient-dense foods that are rich in these essential nutrients, such as leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and seeds, can provide additional support for brain health and help manage ADHD symptoms.

Avoiding Foods that May Exacerbate ADHD Symptoms

In addition to incorporating foods that support brain health, it is important to avoid certain foods that may exacerbate ADHD symptoms. Some people with ADHD are sensitive to certain food additives, such as artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. These additives can potentially worsen hyperactivity and impulsivity in these individuals. Additionally, some may have food sensitivities or intolerances that can contribute to ADHD symptoms.

Identifying and eliminating dietary triggers can be beneficial in managing ADHD symptoms. Keeping a food diary and monitoring symptoms can help identify potential triggers. Common dietary triggers for ADHD include processed foods, gluten, dairy, sugary snacks and beverages, foods high in artificial additives, and foods to which the individual has a known sensitivity or intolerance.

By avoiding these dietary triggers and focusing on whole, nutrient-dense foods, those with ADHD can better manage their symptoms and support their overall well-being.

Supplements as Natural SSRI Alternatives

In addition to dietary changes, supplements can provide additional support as natural alternatives to SSRIs for the treatment of ADHD.

Certain supplements, such as St. John’s Wort, have been found to have a positive impact on brain health and can help manage ADHD symptoms. This herbal supplement may act similarly to SSRIs by altering serotonin levels and has been found to be as effective for mild-to-moderate depression as SSRI medications. However, it may not be as effective for people with severe depression (major depressive disorder).

Other herbal remedies, such as passionflower and valerian, have also shown to be useful as natural alternatives to SSRIs for managing symptoms of insomnia, anxiety, and stress. These natural antidepressants can be used alongside other treatment strategies to provide a holistic approach to ADHD management.


Zembrin® is a patented standardized extract derived from the plant Sceletium tortuosum, also known as Kanna, a succulent herb traditionally used by indigenous peoples of South Africa for its mood-altering properties. Zembrin® is believed to contribute to mental wellness through a dual mechanism of action: by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin (thereby increasing its availability in the synaptic cleft) and by acting as a PDE4 inhibitor, which is related to its anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects. This dual action can potentially enhance mood and cognitive function while also addressing stress and anxiety.

Studies on Zembrin® have shown promising results in terms of enhancing mood, reducing anxiety, and improving cognitive function. One of the key studies demonstrates its potential to inhibit serotonin reuptake, which could explain its mood-enhancing properties.3Harvey, A. L., Young, L. C., Viljoen, A. M., & Gericke, N. P. (2011). Pharmacological actions of the South African medicinal and functional food plant Sceletium tortuosum and its principal alkaloids. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 137(3), 1124-1129.

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial highlighted Zembrin®’s safety and efficacy in improving cognitive function and mood among healthy adults, showcasing its potential as a supplement for mental wellness.4Chiu, S., Gericke, N., Farina-Woodbury, M., Badmaev, V., Raheb, H., Terpstra, K., Antongiorgi, J., Bureau, Y., & Cernovsky, Z. (2014). Proof of concept randomized double-blind placebo controlled trial evaluating the efficacy, safety, and tolerability of Kanna (Sceletium tortuosum) in healthy adults. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 20(12), 901-908.


Saffron may also increase the levels of serotonin in the brain by inhibiting its reuptake, thereby making more serotonin available to improve mood. Additionally, saffron’s compounds, including crocin and safranal, have been shown to interact with other neurotransmitter systems, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, which can also contribute to its overall antidepressant effects.

A significant body of research has investigated saffron’s potential in treating depression and anxiety, with many studies reporting positive outcomes. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials found that saffron was significantly more effective than placebos in treating mild-to-moderate depression, suggesting it could be a safe and effective treatment option.5Hausenblas, H. A., Saha, D., Dubyak, P. J., & Anton, S. D. (2013). Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: A meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Journal of Integrative Medicine, 11(6), 377-383.

Some studies have compared saffron directly with conventional SSRIs. One such study found that saffron was as effective as fluoxetine (Prozac) in treating mild to moderate depression without the side effects typically associated with SSRIs.6Noorbala, A. A., Akhondzadeh, S., Tahmacebi-Pour, N., & Jamshidi, A. H. (2005). Hydro-alcoholic extract of Crocus sativus L. versus fluoxetine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: A double-blind, randomized pilot trial. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 97(2), 281-284.

Additional Supplements That Support Serotonin Levels

  1. St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum): St. John’s Wort has been widely studied for its antidepressant properties. Research suggests it may inhibit the reuptake of serotonin, along with norepinephrine and dopamine, potentially elevating mood.7Apaydin, E. A., Maher, A. R., Shanman, R., Booth, M. S., Miles, J. N., Sorbero, M. E., & Hempel, S. (2016). A systematic review of St. John’s wort for major depressive disorder. Systematic Reviews, 5(1), 148.
  2. Curcumin: The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, may affect serotonin levels. Some studies suggest it could prevent the reuptake of serotonin, thereby enhancing its antidepressant effects.8Lopresti, A. L., Maes, M., Maker, G. L., Hood, S. D., & Drummond, P. D. (2014). Curcumin for the treatment of major depression: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Journal of Affective Disorders, 167, 368-375.
  3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3s, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), have been studied for their role in brain health, including their influence on serotonin pathways. They might improve serotonin transmission by reducing brain inflammation and facilitating serotonin release.9Martins, J. G. (2009). EPA but not DHA appears to be responsible for the efficacy of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in depression: Evidence from a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 28(5), 525-542.
  4. 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan): 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, and its supplementation might increase serotonin synthesis. Although not directly inhibiting its reuptake, increasing serotonin production can indirectly enhance serotonin activity.10Birdsall, T. C. (1998). 5-Hydroxytryptophan: A clinically-effective serotonin precursor. Alternative Medicine Review, 3(4), 271-280.
  5. Magnesium: Magnesium plays a crucial role in brain function and mood regulation. Some research suggests that magnesium deficiency could be linked to depression, and supplementation might have a positive effect on serotonin levels and mood.11Tarleton, E. K., Littenberg, B., MacLean, C. D., Kennedy, A. G., & Daley, C. (2017). Role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression: A randomized clinical trial. PLOS ONE, 12(6), e0180067.
  6. Vitamin D: Vitamin D receptors are widespread in the brain, suggesting its significant role in brain function and mental health. There is evidence that vitamin D supplementation can improve mood by influencing serotonin synthesis and function.12Jorde, R., Sneve, M., Figenschau, Y., Svartberg, J., & Waterloo, K. (2008). Effects of vitamin D supplementation on symptoms of depression in overweight and obese subjects: Randomized double blind trial. Journal of Internal Medicine, 264(6), 599-609.
  7. Probiotics: The gut-brain axis is a major area of research, highlighting how gut health impacts mental health. Certain probiotic strains known as psychobiotics influence brain function and mood by producing neurotransmitters like serotonin or modulating inflammation, which affects serotonin’s function.13Wallace, C. J. K., & Milev, R. (2017). The effects of probiotics on depressive symptoms in humans: A systematic review. Annals of General Psychiatry, 16, 14.
  8. Ginkgo Biloba: Ginkgo biloba is often used for its cognitive enhancing effects. Some studies suggest it might also improve mood and mental well-being by modulating neurotransmitter activity, including serotonin.14Woelk, H., Arnoldt, K. H., Kieser, M., & Hoerr, R. (2007). Ginkgo biloba special extract EGb 761® in generalized anxiety disorder and adjustment disorder with anxious mood: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 41(6), 472-480.
  9. Rhodiola Rosea: Rhodiola is an adaptogen that has been used to improve mood and alleviate depression. It is thought to enhance serotonin and dopamine activity, among other effects, contributing to its mood-stabilizing and antidepressant effects.15Amsterdam, J. D., & Panossian, A. G. (2016). Rhodiola rosea L. as a putative botanical antidepressant. Phytomedicine, 23(7), 770-783.
  10. L-Theanine: Found in green tea, L-theanine is known for its ability to promote relaxation without sedation. It’s thought to affect serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain.16Hidese, S., Ota, M., Wakabayashi, C., Noda, T., Ozawa, H., Okubo, T., & Kunugi, H. (2019). Effects of chronic l-theanine administration in patients with major depressive disorder: An open-label study. Acta Neuropsychiatrica, 29(2), 72-79.
  11. SAMe (S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine): SAMe is involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters. It has been studied for its potential to improve mood and treat depressive symptoms. Research suggests SAMe can be as effective as some conventional SSRIs in treating depression, with fewer side effects.17Papakostas, G. I., Mischoulon, D., Shyu, I., Alpert, J. E., & Fava, M. (2010). S-Adenosyl methionine (SAMe) augmentation of serotonin reuptake inhibitors for antidepressant nonresponders with major depressive disorder: A double-blind, randomized clinical trial. American Journal of Psychiatry, 167(8), 942-948.
  12. Inositol: Often considered a B-vitamin, inositol plays a crucial role in neurotransmitter signaling. It has been studied for its effects on mood disorders, including depression and anxiety. Clinical trials suggest that inositol can be effective in treating depression, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), conditions often managed with SSRIs.18Levine, J. (1997). Controlled trials of inositol in psychiatry. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 7(2), 147-155.
  13. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): An adaptogen that has been used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha is believed to help the body resist stressors of all kinds, whether physical, chemical, or biological. Its effects on reducing stress and anxiety could be partially due to its influence on serotonin. A study on Ashwagandha’s efficacy in reducing stress and anxiety corroborates its potential SSRI-like effect by possibly modulating serotonin levels.19Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 34(3), 255-262.

It’s crucial to understand that while these supplements can offer potential benefits similar to SSRIs, their effectiveness, mechanism of action, and safety profile may differ.

Lifestyle Adjustments for ADHD

In addition to dietary changes and supplements, lifestyle adjustments can play a significant role in managing ADHD symptoms. By making certain changes to daily routines and incorporating specific activities, individuals with ADHD can improve focus, reduce hyperactivity, and enhance overall well-being.

The Importance of Regular Physical Exercise

Regular physical exercise is an important component of managing ADHD symptoms. Exercise has been shown to increase endorphin levels, improve mood, and enhance attention span. Physical activity can also help reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity in individuals with ADHD.

Engaging in activities such as walking, running, swimming, or cycling on a regular basis can provide numerous benefits for individuals with ADHD. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. Incorporating exercise into daily routines and finding activities that are enjoyable can help ensure consistency and long-term adherence to an exercise regimen.

If it’s possible to exercise outdoors, that’s even better as it may help with vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency is strongly correlated with depression and other neurological issues.

Structuring Your Day for Success: Routines and ADHD

Creating structured routines can be highly beneficial for people with ADHD. Establishing a daily routine can help improve time management, increase organization, and reduce feelings of overwhelm. The predictability and structure provided by a routine can also help individuals with ADHD better manage their symptoms.

Some strategies for structuring the day include:

  • creating a consistent schedule
  • setting clear goals and priorities
  • breaking tasks into smaller, manageable steps
  • using visual aids or reminders to stay on track

It can also be helpful to incorporate regular breaks and transitions between activities to allow for rest and recharge.

By implementing structured routines, individuals with ADHD can better manage their time, increase productivity, and reduce stress.

Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

Mindfulness and relaxation techniques can be powerful tools for managing ADHD symptoms. These techniques help individuals with ADHD improve focus, reduce stress, and enhance self-regulation skills.

Meditation Practices Tailored for ADHD

Mindfulness meditation can be particularly beneficial for people with ADHD, though it’s easier for adults to implement than it is for children.

Mindfulness meditation involves training the mind to focus on the present moment and cultivate a non-judgmental awareness of thoughts and emotions. By practicing mindfulness meditation, individuals with ADHD can improve focus, reduce impulsivity, and enhance self-regulation skills.

Breathwork and Yoga: Calming the Mind

Breathwork and yoga are relaxation techniques that can help calm the mind and reduce stress in individuals with ADHD. Deep breathing exercises can help regulate the nervous system and promote a sense of calm and relaxation.

Yoga combines physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation, and can provide numerous benefits for individuals with ADHD, including improved focus, reduced anxiety, and increased body awareness. In fact, a recent study has shown that yoga can be just as effective as antidepressant drugs in treating depression, making it a natural alternative for those seeking treatment for ADHD.

The Role of Professional Guidance in Natural ADHD Management

While natural alternatives can be effective for managing ADHD symptoms, it is important to seek professional guidance to ensure safety and effectiveness. ADHD specialists, such as psychiatrists or psychologists, can provide valuable support and expertise in developing an individualized treatment plan for ADHD.

When to Seek Help: Collaborating with ADHD Specialists

It is important to seek professional help when managing ADHD symptoms, especially if symptoms are significantly impacting daily life or if natural alternatives are not providing adequate relief. ADHD specialists can conduct a thorough evaluation, provide an accurate diagnosis, and develop a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to individual needs.

Integrative Approaches: Combining Natural and Conventional Treatments

Integrative approaches to ADHD management involve combining natural alternatives with conventional treatments to provide a holistic approach. By integrating natural remedies, dietary changes, supplements, lifestyle adjustments, and mindfulness techniques with medications or therapy, individuals with ADHD can optimize their treatment outcomes.


In conclusion, exploring natural alternatives for ADHD treatment offers a promising path forward.

By considering dietary adjustments, incorporating supplements, embracing lifestyle changes, and engaging in mindfulness practices, individuals can proactively manage ADHD symptoms. The shift towards natural remedies signifies a growing recognition of holistic well-being and personalized care.

It’s essential to seek professional guidance when needed, blending natural approaches with conventional treatments for a comprehensive health strategy. Embracing a multifaceted approach tailored to individual needs can empower individuals on their journey towards improved mental health and overall well-being.