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December 21st, 2010
10:22 AM ET

Do homeopathic treatments for ADHD work?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Tuesdays, it's Dr. Charles Raison, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, and an expert in the mind-body connection for health.

Question asked by Suzie

Our 8-year-old daughter was diagnosed with ADHD at age 6. We have tried several medications, stimulants and nonstimulants, and have not gotten good results. We are now looking at homeopathic treatment for our daughter, but the question is: Does it really work?

The short answer to your question appears to be no. Let's talk about this short answer before we talk a little about a longer and more complicated answer.

Compared with studies in many thousands of children and adolescents - including studies lasting many years - as of 2007, the effects of homeopathy for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, had been studied with even minimal rigor in only four studies.

When researchers combined data from the 168 young people in these four studies, they found no evidence that homeopathic treatments were of benefit for ADHD. So at this point in time I think we have to conclude that by the standards used to assess Food and Drug Administration-approved medications, homeopathic treatments don't work.

OK, that's the short answer. The longer answer is that homeopathic approaches do not appear to work better than placebo treatments, so they don't work in any specific way for ADHD. But placebos can have powerful beneficial effects for many health conditions, ranging from depression and chronic pain to Parkinson's disease. Recent studies show clearly that when people believe they are taking an active medication but are receiving a placebo their brains activate in much the same way - but to a lesser degree - as their brains do in response to the active medication.

The internet is chock-full of treatments promising the sun, moon and stars for all sorts of medical problems. The vast majority of these have never been adequately tested.

Look for the last few lines of small print underneath all the gigantic claims made on internet sites for homeopathic ADHD treatments. You'll always see something along the lines of "claims have not been scientifically established" or "treatment is not intended for medical purposes." In psychiatry, we often say that a new medication works best just before it is approved for use, because its sheen has not been rubbed off by clinical experience.

Although homeopathy doesn't work in formal studies, it does not mean it might not help certain individuals, and your child might be one of them. But I would strongly suggest that if multiple ADHD medications have failed it is possible that your daughter has been misdiagnosed and is being given medications that work for a condition she doesn't have.

Before doing anything in terms of alternative treatments, I'd make sure you got your daughter the best mental health assessment you can find to make sure that she doesn't have a condition such as bipolar disorder, which can often resemble ADHD in childhood but requires different types of medication.

Ask our doctors a question


soundoff (192 Responses)
  1. Patrick

    Don't know about homeopathy. But, I do know firsthand that magnesium, zinc and b6 helps ADHD immensely.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Melissa Burch

    The best book on the value of homeopathy for Autism is Dr. Amy Lansky's: The Pomise of Homeopathy" at http://www.impossiblecure.com/index.php. It tells the story of her own son who was cured of autism by homeopathy.

    December 28, 2010 at 20:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. MD

    Sad. Shows the incredible amount of ignorance and gullibility in our society. Homeopathy–under research?? Yeah, in the same way iridology and astrology and reflexology are. Just look at what it is and what it claims. It is WATER, folks. We know how aspirin works through learning some chemistry and biology. That is why we know homeopathy won't work other than on
    suggestible minds. We have more than enough ignorance in our society without adding to it by these scams.

    January 6, 2011 at 01:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. DonnyB4

    Q: Do homeopathic treatments for work?
    A: No.

    January 18, 2011 at 12:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. DonnyB4

    Q: Do homeopathic treatments for ANYTHING work?
    A: No.

    January 18, 2011 at 12:28 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.