A combination of medication and therapy are common for managing ADHD, but could caffeine be an option, too?

Many of us love a good cup of coffee in the morning or a piece of chocolate as a midday pick-me-up. But these foods and drinks may do more than just satisfy your taste buds.

Treats that contain caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant, are not only delicious, but might also boost alertness and attention.

Because some medications prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are also stimulants, there’s some speculation that caffeine may help ADHD symptoms.

But is caffeine a possible option to help manage symptoms of ADHD?

Let’s take a look at what scientists have to say about the effects of caffeine on ADHD, the risks and benefits, and whether it’s something you might want to consider as a way to manage your ADHD symptoms.

Caffeine, aka 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine, is a compound found in coffee, tea, and chocolate, as well as some energy and soft drinks.

Caffeine interacts with a molecule in the body called adenosine, which assists with communication between brain cells and acts as a nervous system depressant.

Adenosine levels increase throughout the day and help promote feelings of drowsiness.

Caffeine interferes with this process by counteracting the effects of adenosine, promoting alertness and focus. It also impacts other parts of the body by increasing heart rate and constricting blood vessels. Additionally, it can amp up dopamine production in the brain, leading to improved mood.

Too much caffeine, on the other hand, can cause nervousness, jitteriness, or a rapid heart rate and can also lead to nausea or sleep disturbances.

Common treatment options for ADHD include medication and therapy, or a combination of both.

Some might also try complementary and alternative strategies, such as eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep, to help with their symptoms.

Because it has stimulant properties, consuming caffeine could theoretically be a helpful way to manage ADHD symptoms.

However, caffeine affects everyone differently.

While some with ADHD find that it helps them focus and concentrate, others experience the opposite effect and become increasingly irritable or agitated.

While some people report benefits from adding caffeine into their daily routine, others don’t. If you’re contemplating trying caffeine as a way to lessen your ADHD symptoms, it might be helpful to look into the latest research for answers.

One study found that young, hyperactive rodents who received caffeine combined with exercise showed improvements in behavioral performance, serotonin and dopamine levels, and the brain’s ability to make new connections.

The research team suggested that these results provide new evidence that caffeine in conjunction with exercise starting in adolescence may be a possible treatment option for ADHD.

Other recent research exploring caffeine use in U.S. Army soldiers with ADHD found promising evidence that consuming caffeinated foods and drinks may improve cognitive performance and impulsive behavior.

Researchers said that more research is needed, but preliminary evidence indicates caffeine or other adenosine receptor antagonists may play a role in treating this mental health condition.

Although these studies show some evidence that caffeine works for ADHD symptoms, others reveal something different. For example, research published in Current Developments in Nutrition found that caffeine used alone increased impulsivity in adolescent boys.

Scientists looked at the use of caffeine and L-theanine — an amino acid found in tea and some mushroom species — as a potential tool to help improve ADHD symptoms in children.

In adolescent boys, these compounds used separately seemed to increase impulsive behavior. However, combining caffeine and L-theanine improved attention and overall mental performance.

Another study found that in 302 adolescents ages 12 to 14, caffeine consumption was higher among participants with ADHD, especially in the afternoon. Researchers noted that this increased caffeine use during afternoon hours was associated with sleep disturbances. But this tendency toward poor sleep only occurred in adolescents living with ADHD.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicates that 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day — the equivalent of about four or five cups of coffee — isn’t widely associated with dangerous side effects in healthy adults.

However, because everyone metabolizes caffeine differently, some people can experience unwanted side effects even when consuming small amounts.

According to the American Academy of Child & Adult Psychiatry (AACAP), there’s no proven safe dose of caffeine for children. They suggest limiting the consumption of this stimulant compound to 100 mg or less per day for young people ages 12 to 18. For children under 12 years old, they advise avoiding caffeine use altogether.

Prescription medications for ADHD, these can interact with caffeine, resulting in uncomfortable jitteriness. Additionally, the symptoms of an underlying health condition, such as an irregular heart rhythm, can increase with caffeine consumption.

Before adding this stimulant to your daily routine, consider talking with a medical or mental health professional.

After reviewing what scientists have to say about caffeine for ADHD, there are still many unanswered questions.

Although caffeine isn’t a standardized treatment and there are no set dosages to go by, there’s some evidence that it may help manage symptoms.

If you feel caffeine might help you or a loved one living with ADHD, the first step is to talk with a healthcare professional, either through an in-office visit or a telehealth appointment, if it’s available to you.

Because every person responds to caffeine differently, whether you try it or any other treatment option for ADHD is a personal choice.