Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder -- ADHD -- is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders diagnosed in children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In anywhere from one-third to two-thirds of cases, the disorder continues into adulthood. Symptoms of the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD include difficulty focusing, being disorganized and forgetful, and failing to pay attention to details. Though these may be treated with prescription stimulants, a growing number of people are choosing to try to control or lessen symptoms through nutritional therapies such as vitamin supplements.
A preliminary study of children with ADHD found their symptoms improved somewhat while they were receiving magnesium supplements. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency mirror some of ADHD's symptoms, such as a decreased attention span and mental confusion. Normal brain function is heavily dependent on magnesium. However, because the mineral is readily available in many plant- and animal-based foods, magnesium deficiency among those eating a balanced diet is uncommon.
Vitamin B-6 is used in the body to make and use brain chemicals, including those that are affected in individuals with ADHD. Though certain studies have indicated B-6 has a positive impact on the behavior of hyperactive children, there has not been as much study on its impact on those with predominantly inattentive ADHD. Though confusion, depression and irritability are among the symptoms of a B-6 deficiency, severe deficiencies are uncommon. High doses of vitamin B-6 can cause dangerous side effects such as nerve damage, so be sure to only take this supplement under a doctor’s supervision.
Zinc deficiencies have been shown to impair mental function, including attention, memory and learning. The mineral plays a key role in the regulation of brain chemicals related to behavior. However, high levels of zinc in the brain can also have severe side effects so zinc supplements should never be taken without a doctor's supervision.
Essential Fatty Acids
In those with ADHD, the neurotransmitters of the brain are not functioning as they should. Because these are made up of large amounts of the fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6, supplementation may impact ADHD symptoms, though further study is needed. These fatty acids are commonly found in fish and fish oil supplements. Studies indicate that children’s developing brains may be especially susceptible to a deficiency in these fats. If you are considering providing fish oil supplements to a child, consult a pediatrician about the proper dose.
Administering high doses of vitamins to treat conditions such as ADHD has never been proven scientifically effective, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Some early studies showed promise, though no positive correlation has been definitively made between supplementation and decreased ADHD symptoms. Also, though they may seem harmless, over-the-counter vitamins are still drugs and should be taken with care. Certain combinations or quantities could be toxic or interfere with other medications. A doctor should always be consulted before starting on vitamin supplements, particularly in high doses. Your doctor can help determine whether a vitamin or nutrient deficiency exists that may be causing or contributing to ADHD symptoms.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Facts About ADHD
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- Linus Pauling Institute: Micronutrients and Cognitive Function
- National Resource Center on ADHD: Complementary and Alternative Treatments
- Healthychildren.org: Vitamin Supplements and Children