The caffeine in true tea – Camellia sinensis – is a stimulant that offers some of the same benefits to people with ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – as prescription drugs. Some have found tea to be a way to avoid these drugs when symptoms are less severe or to support prescription drug therapies. For many, it’s not just the biochemical compounds being ingested but also the lifestyle that is created. The way people with ADHD in their families have discovered how to use tea reminds me of the saying attributed to Hippocrates, “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.”

Tea and ADHD

About eighteen years ago, a friend confided that her children had been diagnosed with attention deficit and that they were managing his ADHD with tea. And she explained how their family was using true tea, Camellia sinensis, and how they prepared and served tea to help control his symptoms and help them deal with the changes in their all their lives. Teatime became part of their daily family time.

They each developed favorite kinds of tea and collected teaware. Their young son learned about teas from countries around the world and the people who grew them. He studied their cultures and ceremonies and created some of his own unique rituals. He chose a teapot for his favorite tea. He drank different kinds of tea during the day. There were times when he drank black tea and other times when he drank green tea. Establishing habits helped him throughout the day. These rituals helped him develop a meaningful personal practice while the chemical components of tea like caffeine and L-Theanine, supported him on a cellular level and helped him focus and thrive.

Boy making cups of tea

What is ADHD?

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a mentalbehavioral, and neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention, bouts of excessive energy, hyper-fixation, and impulsivity, which are pervasive, impairing, and otherwise age inappropriate.  Wikipedia

Some of the most obvious symptoms and the ones that usually lead to evaluation and diagnosis are inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity that are most noticeable in school and social settings. 

ADHD + Physician's Rx pad

Physicians treating the condition in both children and adults now recommend a very broad treatment program that includes alternatives like physical exercise, mindfulness, and diet in addition to considerations about prescription medications. Research in the last decade continues to build on the evidence that this is the best approach with both childen and adults trying to manage ADHD. And true tea can be a valuable tool.

Even the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a balanced, whole-of-life approach that includes:

Adults also have ADHD

Many people struggle through adolescence without being diagnosed or understanding the issues with ADHD. They find ways to get by and manage their symptoms. Some of these people are avid tea drinkers who have developed daily tea habits that help them feel more in control. And more “normal”. Drinking tea doesn’t get in the way of their daily lives as much as prescription medications do.

A good friend of mine gets more done in a day than most people do in a week. When I invited her to come for an afternoon tea, she confided in me that she has ADHD and can’t drink tea with caffeine unless she’s ready to go to sleep. The caffeine has the opposite effect on her. For many of us, we have to stop caffeine in the afternoon or it keeps us awake. But she sleeps like a baby throughout the night after she sips a hot cup of strong black tea. And it’s the last thing she want’s to drink when she bounces out of bed in the morning.

ADHD even inspired a tea business focused on children

Greenhouse Tea Company was created out of the belief that being healthy is a human right, not a privilege, and what we put into our bodies matters. These beliefs inspired us to create our first green tea blend at the suggestion of our son’s neurologist as a natural way to help manage his ADHD. 

Research paves the way for neurologists to recommend managing ADHD with tea

The use of alternative therapies in treating children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is growing and medical professionals are supported in their desire to make recommendations to help families dealing with ADHD in a more wholistic way. Like drinking tea.

Here are excerpts from some of the research.

The use of alternative therapies in treating children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Published by 2002 Dec; 7(10): 710–718.

ADHD is a common and complex disorder for which no specific neuroanatomical, physiological, biochemical or psychological origin has been identified. Despite the effectiveness and relative safety of stimulant medications, many parents are concerned about giving their child a psychoactive, ‘mind-altering’ medication for what is likely to be a long period of time. As with many chronic diseases of childhood, parents have turned to complementary and alternative medicine ().

Effects of L-theanine–caffeine combination on sustained attention and inhibitory control among children with ADHD: a proof-of-concept neuroimaging RCT.    by Chanaka N. KahathuduwaSarah WakefieldBlake D. WestJessica BlumeTharaka L. DassanayakeVajira S. Weerasinghe & Ann Mastergeorge  Published in Scientific Reports volume 10, Article number: 13072 (2020)

We examined the acute effects of L-theanine, caffeine and their combination on sustained attention, inhibitory control, and overall cognition in boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) … In conclusion, our results suggest that administration of a combination of 2.5 mg/kg of L-theanine and 2.0 mg/kg of caffeine may result in an acute (i.e. short-term) improvements in sustained attention and overall cognition composite of NIH Cognition Toolbox among boys with ADHD, possibly by reversing increased task-related mind wandering associated with ADHD.

l-Theanine protects against excess dopamine-induced neurotoxicity in the presence of astrocytes.  by Mika Takeshima,1 Ikuko Miyazaki,1,2 Shinki Murakami,1,2,3 Taizo Kita,4 and Masato Asanuma1,2,*

l-Theanine (γ-glutamylethylamide) is a major free amino acid component of green tea, and has a suppressive effect against the excitatory action of caffeine,() reducing effect on systemic blood pressure,() and anti-oxidative properties.

The neuropharmacology of L-theanine(N-ethyl-L-glutamine): a possible neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing agent.  by Pradeep J Nathan 1Kristy LuM GrayC Oliver.  Journal of Herbal Pharmacother 2006;6(2):21-30

L-theanine (N-ethyl-L-glutamine) or theanine is a major amino acid uniquely found in green tea. L-theanine has been historically reported as a relaxing agent, prompting scientific research on its pharmacology. Animal neurochemistry studies suggest that L-theanine increases brain serotonin, dopamine,