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Does Caffeine Alleviate ADHD Symptoms?

Caffeine ADHD symptomsAn article posted on MBG Health asks the questions we all want to know:

  • Could ingesting caffeine in the form of coffee, tea, or any other source be a safe way to help alleviate ADHD symptoms?
  • Would it just make things worse?
  • And is combining caffeine with ADHD medication even OK, or is it potentially dangerous?

According to the article, “If you've ever consumed coffee or tea in the morning, you're probably quite familiar with the physical and mental lift that soon follows. That's because coffee is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that's been shown to help enhance focus and concentration, banish fatigue, improve memory, and boost overall mental functioning—at least temporarily.”

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Caffeine predominantly does this by acting as an adenosine receptor antagonist. Caffeine is similar in structure to adenosine, a chemical that binds to receptors in the brain and subsequently slows down the activity of neurons that produce attention-boosting neurotransmitters like dopamine. This has the effect of making us sleepy and less able to maintain focus. But when we consume coffee, tea, or energy drinks, caffeine binds to these receptors instead, which minimizes the impact of adenosine and thereby curbs its effects by indirectly increasing dopamine release.

This is why caffeine in moderation can have positive effects on focus, attention, and energy. However, too much caffeine can lead to problematic side effects such as restlessness, elevated anxiety, rapid heartbeat, insomnia, headaches, dependency, cortisol and adrenal disruption, and more.”

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The article also notes that research regarding caffeine and ADHD is not conclusive and results have varied.

“So, while it appears that there's real potential for using caffeine to alleviate certain ADHD symptoms, caffeine can affect individuals quite differently—so there's reason to proceed with caution, listen to your body, and consult your doctor if you plan to use caffeine as a tool to manage ADHD.

If you don't tolerate caffeine, or if you abuse it, it could potentially make your ADHD symptoms worse. This is particularly true if you suffer from anxiety, which can be negatively affected by excessive caffeine consumption, and which happens to affect about 50% of adults with ADHD. Additionally, if your caffeine consumption interferes with sleep, it will likely cancel out any potential focus-enhancing benefits. "Especially if consumed later in the day, the stimulating effects of caffeine can prevent us from falling and staying soundly asleep, which can exacerbate feelings of brain fog and lack of focus during the day," says Naidoo [Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist and author of This Is Your Brain on Food].”