Nutritional Support For ADHD

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ADHD is a large problem in the US and the disorder can manifest itself in a number of ways, not all of them are obvious. Although there are a number of pharmaceutical options for sufferers, there are also many simple nutritional steps that can be taken to help remedy the situation.

It is startling to know that 3 to 7 percent of children in the US suffer from ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. This means it affects over 2 million children in America, that is, one in every class of 25 would have ADHD. This condition is usually diagnosed in the pre-school and early school years. Children with these symptoms are unusually fidgety and restless. They may have problems paying attention in school, waiting in lines or taking turns. Some children may express this in their aggression. ADHD is usually diagnosed more in boys that girls, but that could be because girls tend to be quieter and less aggressive than boys. In girls it could manifest itself as talkativeness rather than aggression.

ADHD Definition

The U.S. Surgeon General has defined ADHD as a metabolic form of encephalopathy. The disease weakens the release and homeostasis of neurological chemicals, reducing the function of the limbic system. Other relevant research however points out that some part of the brain could be involved. These are the frontal lobes, their connections to the basal ganglia, the central aspects of the cerebellum and the middle or medial aspect of the frontal lobe.

ADHD into Adulthood

Four types of ADHD types have been recognized. These are the Predominantly Inattentive, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive, and Combined Type of ADHD (hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive) and ADHD Not Otherwise Specified. As a person gets older, the symptoms of ADHD could reduce, but many children diagnosed with ADHD retain this disorder into adulthood too. It is then known as Adult Attention-Deficit Disorder or AADD. In adults, it manifests itself in the need to be physically busy all time, excessive talking, interrupting others, risk taking, speaking out without regard to the consequences and even daydreaming.

Causes of ADHD

The research into the causes of ADHD has thrown up a number of issues. Primarily it seems that both genetic and environmental factors play a role in ADHD. Significantly, research has shown that many critical food deficiencies could cause the problem. These could be as varied as deficiency of essential Omega 3 Fatty Acids, Antioxidant Vitamins like Vitamin C, iron and even zinc.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 deficiency may lead to behavioral problems that are linked with ADHD. Some children with ADHD show other symptoms connected with Omega 3 deficiency, such as dry skin and hair, thirst and even Frequent Urination. A trial in supplementing Omega 3 in children with ADHD revealed some surprising results. Over a period of time, Fish Oil Supplements were given to a group of children and a placebo to another set. The children with Fish Oil Supplements showed remarkable improvements in attentiveness and other attributes. Academic results were much better with better scores in reading, spelling, mathematics and other skills. No such improvements were seen in children given the placebo. Thus Omega 3 rich Supplements such as Fish Oil could be a solution to help children with ADHD. Some researchers feel babies who are breast-fed have a lower chance of developing ADHD later because it is rich in Omega 3.

Food and Environmental Allergies

Children with ADHD may also be more likely to suffer from food Allergies. They could be losing vital Vitamins, iron and even zinc because of their allergy to dairy products, wheat, corn, yeast, soy, citrus, eggs, chocolate, peanuts and artificial colors and preservatives. It has been seen that children with ADHD lose zinc when exposed to a food dye. In a study that eliminated these allergens in the diet of some children, the majority of the children showed lower levels of hyperactivity. Once these were added back to diet, the problems associated with ADHD once again returned.

Dietary Deficiencies

Research has also shown that iron levels are low in children suffering from ADHD. The children’s serum ferritin levels were measured to determine their iron status. It was seen that one-third of the ADHD children had a very low range of iron levels. It was noticed that the lower the iron levels, the higher the severity of the ADHD symptoms. The researchers concluded that low iron stores might explain some ADHD cases. Iron Supplements could be given but proper testing is required before doing so, because excess iron stored in the body can cause several other problems.

Supplements of zinc and zinc sulphate have proved successful in small trials. But more results are awaited. However in the mean time, a good idea would be to remove additives from the diet along with all foods that the child could be allergic to. This could improve the absorption of natural zinc present in foods. Vitamin C could also be supplemented, because sometimes it is not easily absorbed from natural foods. However, once again it might be good idea to remove additives and allergy-causing foods from the diet. This would result in better Vitamin C absorption.

Drug Interactions

Most ADHD children are on some prescribed drug or the other. Should drug interactions with dietary Supplements be a concern? Generally, mixing Supplements at low levels with drugs does not produce side effects but it is worth checking with your doctor just in case.

Most research indicates that a balanced diet rich in Omega 3, Antioxidants, Vitamins and Minerals, free from Toxins, would be beneficial to children suffering from ADHD.


  1. Physiology and Behavior, 1996 9: 915-920
  2. 59th annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, Bellanti et al.
  3. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, December 2004;158:1113-1115

About the author

Iris is a Canadian trained physician who has been involved in the nutritional world for over 15 years and has a major interest in traditional Chinese medicine. Iris currently works as a medical advisor to Mitamins, the custom made online Supplements company.

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