Does it sometimes seem like everyone is taking Adderall?
A survey conducted using data from 2016 to 2019 estimated that nearly 10% of children 3-17 years old have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). That number has been on the rise ever since the early 90s, largely thought to be due to more parents seeking out treatment for their children, rather than more children facing the common issues associated with ADHD.
Those issues? So common sometimes that it can be challenging for a parent to know if they have a child that’s just “got a lot of energy!” or is dealing with something more serious. Symptoms can include more risk taking, difficulty with paying attention, impulsiveness, restlessness, trouble with multitasking and managing time among other things. This often leads to poor performance in school or work and begs a nasty cycle of struggle into adulthood.
The rise in ADHD diagnosis has led to a rise in efforts to combat the disorder and natural alternatives aren’t always obvious to most people when looking for quick solutions to an issue like ADHD. The most common remedy in America has been in the form of a pill that was prescribed over 40 million times in 2021.
So maybe not everyone is taking Adderall, but 40 million prescriptions is almost a quarter of the country. It begs the question: why aren’t more people looking for natural alternatives for ADHD relief?
Before we can dig into that, we should try and better understand how Adderall functions.
Adderall is a prescription medication that contains a combination of amphetamine salts. It is primarily used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.
It’s a central nervous system stimulant that affects the chemicals in the brain and nerves that contribute to hyperactivity and impulse control.
The medication is available in both immediate-release (often referred to as IR) and extended-release (XR) formulations. The immediate-release version typically lasts for about 4-6 hours, while the extended-release version can provide effects for up to 12 hours. The dosage and formulation prescribed depend on the individual's condition and response to treatment.
Those are the basics - but how does Adderall work?
The formulated salts impact the brain, and therefore behavior, by increasing the levels of certain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters play a role in regulating attention, focus, and impulse control.
It affects these neurotransmitters by increasing their availability in the synaptic cleft, which is the gap between neurons where communication occurs. Each neurotransmitter plays a specialized role in any number of human functions and dopamine and norepinephrine play an outsized role in your attention and focus.
Dopamine: Adderall increases the release of dopamine into the synaptic cleft. Dopamine is involved in the brain's reward and pleasure systems, as well as in regulating movement, motivation, and attention. By increasing dopamine levels, Adderall can enhance feelings of reward, motivation, and focus.
Norepinephrine (also known as noradrenaline): Adderall acts by increasing the release of norepinephrine into the synaptic cleft. Norepinephrine is involved in the body's "fight-or-flight" response and plays a role in attention, alertness, and arousal. By increasing norepinephrine levels, Adderall can enhance alertness, improve attention span, and reduce impulsive behavior.
More alertness, more reward for alertness, more pleasurable feelings, more focus, less impulsiveness. The body and brain are very complicated, but those outputs are ones we can all understand.
The increased availability of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain leads to the stimulant effects of Adderall, such as increased focus, attention, and cognitive performance. These effects are especially helpful for individuals with ADHD, as it helps to improve their ability to concentrate and control their impulses.
Why is there an Adderall shortage?
Unfortunately for those in serious need an Adderall shortage has swept across the United States throughout 2022 and 2023.
On October 12, 2022, the FDA posted on their website a notification regarding a shortage of the formula commonly referred to by the brand name Adderall due to a variety of factors. Among the issues, one of the top drug companies that manufactures Adderall struggling with manufacturing delays and what seems like a neverending increase in Adderall prescriptions nationally.
Specifically, there has been a huge surge in telehealth prescriptions helping to fuel the rise in demand and the supply has failed to keep up.
There are potential law changes coming that could limit the ease with which Adderall is currently prescribed, which in turn could limit demand a bit while the supply works to catch up.
But that doesn’t help anyone today. So what are other options for people who are struggling with attention and focus, but either cannot or would prefer not to obtain a prescription for ADHD medication?
What are natural alternatives that affect people in a similar way?
There are certain amino acids and supplements that some individuals use as alternatives or adjuncts to support focus, attention, and cognitive function. It's important to note that the effectiveness of these supplements can vary among individuals, and their mechanisms of action may not be exactly the same as Adderall.
Here are a few examples of natural combinations:
L-Tyrosine: L-Tyrosine is an amino acid that is involved in the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine and some people have had success using L-Tyrosine supplements to support mental alertness, focus, and cognitive performance - especially in harsh conditions. Given that it triggers some of the same neurotransmitters as Adderall, it was tested as a possible alternative.
Unfortunately, l-tyrosine has been ruled out as a natural alternative to Adderall due to the high likelihood of tolerance buildup.
In an eight week study of 12 adults with attention deficit disorder, eight showed marked to moderate clinical response in 2 weeks. That’s the good news. The bad news? At 6 weeks these eight developed tolerance, suggesting that L-tyrosine is not useful in attention deficit disorder.
Rhodiola rosea: Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogenic herb that is believed to have stimulating and mood-enhancing effects. It is thought to support neurotransmitter balance and may help reduce fatigue, improve focus, and enhance mental performance.
Results to date have been inconclusive regarding rhodiola rosea’s lasting impact on focus and memory in humans and a more rigorously-designed study is needed to verify the limited evidence that exists. But an exhaustive review of animal-based clinical studies indicated that in mice, it improved learning and memory function in experimental models.
Caffeine and L-Theanine: Caffeine is a well-known stimulant that can increase alertness and attention. Combining caffeine with L-Theanine, an amino acid found in tea leaves, is often used to promote a more balanced and focused state of alertness. L-Theanine may help to mitigate some of the potential negative side effects of caffeine, such as jitteriness or anxiety.
We’ve covered this combination exhaustively and studies indicate it’s a strong mix to help improve cognitive performance and memory in attention-switching tasks throughout the day. And when the combo was specifically introduced to children diagnosed with ADHD, results were impactful
L-theanine, caffeine and their combination seem to improve sustained attention and overall cognitive performance in children with ADHD, possibly via decreasing mind wandering during exertion of attention. While L-theanine alone and caffeine alone seem to increase impulsivity, the combination seems to decrease (i.e., improve) impulsivity in children with ADHD. As such, the combination of L-theanine and caffeine may have the potential to be used as a therapeutic and/or dose sparing agent to manage symptoms in children with ADHD.
It's important to remember that these supplements should be used cautiously and in consultation with a healthcare professional. They may interact with certain medications or have side effects in some individuals.
The rise in ADHD diagnoses and the shortage of prescription medications like Adderall have prompted individuals to seek natural alternatives for improved attention and focus.
While supplements like l-tyrosine and rhodiola rosea have shown some promise as natural alternatives to adderall, they may not be effective over time. However, a combination of l-theanine and caffeine has demonstrated positive effects on sustained attention and cognitive performance, especially in children with ADHD. Our superfood latte mixes offer the perfect solution, as they contain clinically-effective levels of these two ingredients.