Does the caffeine in a cup of java or tea, popular energy drinks, or even chocolate affect those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?
Some people claim that a quick boost of caffeine improves their symptoms, while others warn of dangerous side effects -- what gives?
In this article, we'll dive into caffeine and ADHD to tell you everything you need to know. Let's dive in!
Hold On -- I Need a Refresher on ADHD
Estimates vary, but up to a whopping 5 percent of adults in the U.S. may have ADHD -- that's about 11 million people! And what's more, about 50 percent of them also have some form of anxiety.
ADHD is likely caused by chemical, structural, and connectivity differences in the brain, resulting from environmental triggers and genetics.
It has three primary symptoms:
Inattention: lack of focus, organization, and persistence due to actual inability -- not a lack of will or comprehension.
Hyperactivity: excessive talking, constant movement, and fidgeting; a feeling of intense restlessness.
Impulsivity: swift decision-making with a hope for immediate reward and an inability to understand consequences.
So, Can Caffeine Help with ADHD?
ADHD symptoms are usually managed with prescription stimulants that target the central nervous system (CNS) to improve focus and concentration. Like these popular medications, caffeine is a mild stimulant that can counteract ADHD symptoms. In fact, it does so in two ways:
It blocks adenosine -- a chemical in your brain that promotes sleep and suppresses arousal.
It manipulates dopamine production -- increasing your ability to concentrate while enhancing your overall mood.
A quick note on dopamine...
Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that needs to be perfectly balanced for you to stay attentive and focused. In most individuals, stimulants can cause a surge in dopamine, leading to anxiety and agitation.
But in those with ADHD, dopamine levels are low to begin with so stimulants -- like caffeine -- may boost dopamine levels into a zone of productivity.
In fact, a 2011 study focusing on tea supports this. You see, like other stimulants, caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, which means it reduces blood flow to the brain. That's why caffeine is a popular ingredient found in many OTC medications to combat pesky headaches!
For reasons still unknown to scientists and medical experts, reduced blood flow may lessen ADHD symptoms by limiting activity in parts of the brain that are overactive. In simpler terms, it puts the ADHD-affected part of the brain into chill-out mode so the rest of the brain can cooperate and focus.
However, as good as it may sound, caffeine alone isn't as effective as ADHD meds for a handful of reasons:
Prescription medications contain higher, controlled doses of stimulants.
It's really challenging to consume consistent amounts of caffeine and properly measure the dosage.
Consuming caffeine in conjunction with ADHD meds and other stimulants can be too stimulating, causing a flurry of unwanted side effects.
Okay, what’s the catch?
As the old saying goes, you can have too much of a good thing -- even with caffeine and ADHD treatment.
While caffeine intake in moderation doesn't pose any real harm in the long-run, excessive usage can cause some truly unfortunate health problems, such as anxiety and dependence.
Additionally, too much of the stuff may cause:
Muscle shakes or tremors
Prior to starting on a caffeine regimen in efforts to help improve symptoms of ADHD, be sure to talk with your doctor. They will know about possible side effects based on your overall health and current ADHD treatment.
You should avoid caffeine if you:
Have a sleep disorder such as insomnia
Are pregnant or breastfeeding
Have irregular heart rhythms or high blood pressure
Are prone to chronic headaches
Side effects will depend on how much of the stimulant you consume and how sensitive you are to it. Over time, it is possible that you may develop a tolerance, so you'll need to consume more caffeine to get the same level of benefits -- again, always speak to your doctor!
What about using caffeine with ADHD meds?
When caffeine and amphetamine medications combine, they cause an effect known as synergy. Synergy occurs when two drugs have additive mechanisms of action, making their combined effect much more powerful.
Caffeine works to make amphetamines more potent, so an individual taking Adderall, for example, would likely feel a stronger impact -- including greater side effects. However, the truth is that everyone is different, so this isn't always the case.
For those who are sensitive to stimulants, mixing caffeine with your ADHD meds can amplify some of the unwanted side effects, such as nausea and anxiety, so it's best to be careful with your caffeine intake.
However, it’s possible that L-theanine can help with these side effects.
What is L-theanine, you ask? It is a non-protein amino acid that can reduce our physiological stress responses by imitating the actions of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter that blocks excitatory responses in the brain. Additionally, L-theanine can also suppress excitatory glutamatergic receptor function, which can lower your heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormone levels.
Reduce these responses, and you will get an overall reduction in feelings of tension and stress.
L-Theanine and Caffeine: A Powerful Relationship
We all know about caffeine's worst attributes: restlessness, anxiety, and increased blood pressure. But like any good partner, L-theanine does its best to correct these less-than-favorable qualities so everyone can enjoy caffeine's company a little more easily.
You see, caffeine inhibits the actions of our adenosine receptors in the brain, i.e. the stimulatory activity. L-theanine can help reduce physiological responses to stress by inhibiting excitatory responses in the brain. So when these two life partners meet, they don't just fight each other to a stalemate -- instead, they work out a compromise.
L-theanine has been shown in multiple studies to allow caffeine to work its brain-boosting charm without letting it induce feelings of restlessness or jitters.
So, with that in mind, it's easy to see how those who are sensitive to caffeine can benefit immensely by taking their daily dose of caffeine with a side order of L-theanine! And the best part? According to recent research, this powerful duo seems to improve sustained attention and overall cognitive performance in those with ADHD.
According to new research, the combination of caffeine and L-theanine just might be the secret weapon for improving concentration. If you’d like a convenient and tasty method of trying this combo, reach for a clean, all day energy shot from Proper Wild.
Our energy shots are made with organic caffeine for long-lasting energy, and contain 15x more L-theanine than a cup of green tea for focus and productivity -- without the jitters or crash.