ADHD-The Nutrients Kids Need To Heal Their Brains

Nutrition has the power to help heal a child’s brain so that they can slowly grow out of their ADHD. In the search for solutions to managing ADHD, nutritional supplements have become recognized as a supportive tool alongside traditional treatments. This article delves into how certain supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, iron, and magnesium, can play a beneficial role in managing ADHD symptoms. We’ll explore the emerging research behind these supplements. This article will show you the best place to buy ADHD supplements online. Supplement-Sciences has partnered with Fullscript’s professional-grade supplement formulary to provide a 20% discount on every order, so you always have access to the highest quality supplements.

If you’re a parent looking for ways to support your child, this article will show you how nutrient intake through food and supplements can affect the root causes of ADHD. For teens and adults with ADHD, see our article: ADHD In Teens & Adults: Supplements That Make A Real Difference.

What Is ADHD?

With all the fancy testing, we could just as easily call ADHD by the name, “brain not working syndrome”. The diagnosis of ADHD says absolutely nothing about why this child’s brain does not focus their attention and remember instructions. What we do know is that ADHD has to do with the way a person’s brain cells work and how they are connected. Most people take brain cells for granted thinking that their growth and development just happen automatically. Not so. The brain is the most energy-hungry organ. And building new connections between brain cells is the key to being able to focus.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that primarily affects children but can continue into adulthood. It has a range of symptoms, including poor attention, hyperactivity, and impulsively acting without thinking. Kids with ADHD struggle to focus on tasks, become easily distracted, forget frequently in daily activities, or show restlessness and difficulty sitting still.

The causes of ADHD are not fully understood, but research points to a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors. Brain imaging studies have shown differences in the size and activity of certain brain areas in kids with ADHD compared to those without the disorder.

The brain needs many different nutrients for its proper functioning and health. The importance of providing a full spectrum of nutrients to support neuron health can’t be overstated. Specific nutrients have been studied and found to be particularly helpful for kids with ADHD.

What’s Important For Managing ADHD?

Over time, nutrients can help heal a child’s brain so that they can slowly grow out of their ADHD. Even though you can’t see it from one day to the next, your child’s brain is creating new neurons at an enormous rate during these early years. The nutrients that a child does (or does not) eat affect whether your child can make the maximum number of new neurons they need every day.

These extra neurons every day will only be built with the help of physical activity (which creates BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, aka “miracle grow for the brain”), and optimal nutrition–a high concentration of many different required nutrients from foods. [PMC10080114]

This combination of nutrients will only be possible if the sugar and the processed foods are out of the picture. Focusing on nutrients coming mainly from foods has the power to heal a child’s brain. This will mean the difference between lifelong struggles or a brain that is healed and working at it’s optimal.

So, for parents helping their child with ADHD, focusing on a nutrient-dense diet is at the core of supporting their brain health and managing symptoms. Emphasizing foods rich in omega-3 DHA is a great place to start. These essential fats make up the cell walls of brain cells, so they are vital for brain development and functioning. , potentially aiding in improving focus and reducing hyperactivity. Including high-fiber foods is also beneficial, as they support gut health, which is increasingly recognized for its link to brain health. A healthy gut can contribute to better mood and thinking ability, important for children with ADHD.

Equally important is what to avoid in their diet. Steering clear of soda, sweets, and highly processed foods is critical. These foods cause problems for brain function by affecting gut health. These foods can cause spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels, leading to fluctuations in energy and mood, which can make ADHD symptoms worse. Instead, opting for whole and unprocessed foods can provide steady energy and a wealth of nutrients without chemicals that have potentially harmful effects on the brain. This approach to nutrition, focusing on nutrient density, omega-3 DHA, and the exclusion of processed foods, is about nurturing the brain so that it can heal and thrive.

… patients with ADHD may have reduced levels of vitamin D, zinc, ferritin, and magnesium. These nutrients have important roles in neurologic function, including involvement in neurotransmitter synthesis.

Iron, Magnesium, Vitamin D, and Zinc Deficiencies in Children Presenting with Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder [PMC4928738]
  • Multivitamin: A comprehensive multivitamin supplement can be a key component in managing ADHD, particularly for children whose diets may lack essential nutrients. Multivitamins ensure a regular intake of a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals crucial for brain development and overall health. B vitamins, for instance, play a significant role in energy metabolism and neurological function. A consistent supply of these nutrients supports cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and learning.
    • General Micronutrients: multivitamins provide a balanced approach to supplementation, particularly beneficial for children who are picky eaters or have dietary restrictions, ensuring they receive the necessary nutrients for their developmental and cognitive needs. Researchers also found, “Micronutrients improved overall function, reduced impairment and improved inattention, emotional regulation and aggression”. [PMC7779340] [PMC5153567] [PMID: 31343273] [PMC8782920] [PMID: 24482441]
    • Zinc: Zinc is a mineral that plays an integral role in neurotransmission and brain function, making it important for children with ADHD. It is involved in the synthesis and modulation of neurotransmitters like dopamine, which is essential for cognitive processes such as attention and memory. Studies have suggested that children with ADHD may have lower levels of zinc compared to their peers, and supplementing with zinc can lead to improvements in hyperactivity, impulsivity, and attention. Zinc also supports the immune system and contributes to overall brain health. However, the effectiveness of zinc supplementation can vary, and it is often more beneficial in individuals who have a documented deficiency. [PMC3037197] [PMID: 34184967] [PMC8618748] [PMC8285486]
    • Iron: Iron is essential for brain development and function, particularly in the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine. Low iron levels have been associated with more severe symptoms of ADHD. Iron deficiency can lead to decreased dopamine receptor function and altered neurotransmission, which may exacerbate ADHD symptoms. Supplementing with iron can be particularly beneficial in children who have been diagnosed with an iron deficiency. It can help improve cognitive function, attention, and behavior. However, iron supplementation should be approached with caution and under medical supervision, as excessive iron can be harmful. [PMC8618748]
    • Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 is essential for brain health, particularly in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters play a critical role in regulating mood, attention, and energy levels. In children with ADHD, Vitamin B6 supplementation, often in combination with magnesium, may help improve symptoms. B6 is crucial for cognitive development and brain function, and its supplementation can support learning, memory, and attention. Adequate levels of Vitamin B6 are also associated with better immune function and overall health, which can be beneficial in managing ADHD and its associated challenges. [PMC5153567] [PMC9787829] In one study, multi-year pyridoxine [B6] treatment normalized completely the pattern of ADHD behavior, without causing any serious side effects. [PMID: 24321736]
    • Vitamin D: Vitamin D plays an important role in brain development and function. Research has shown a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and increased severity of ADHD symptoms. Vitamin D receptors are present in key areas of the brain involved in behavior and cognitive function. Supplementation with vitamin D may support brain health and reduce symptoms of ADHD. It contributes to the maintenance of nerve cells and the formation of neurotrophic factors, which are important for brain health. Ensuring adequate vitamin D levels can be particularly beneficial for children with limited sun exposure or dietary intake. [PMID: 29457493] [PMID: 30456564] [PMID: 31368773]
    • Antioxidants (Vitamins C and E, Selenium): Antioxidants like Vitamins C and E, and Selenium, are considered for their role in reducing oxidative stress, which some studies suggest may be elevated in individuals with ADHD. These antioxidants can help protect brain cells from damage and support overall neurological health. Supplementing with antioxidants could potentially aid in improving focus, reducing hyperactivity, and enhancing cognitive function, though specific research on their impact in ADHD is still developing. [PMC5946190]
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), are crucial for brain health and cognitive functioning. EPA and DHA are found in high concentrations in fish oil. These essential fats play a vital role in the structure and function of neuronal membranes. They are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and their ability to help in the development and functioning of the brain. For children with ADHD, omega-3 supplements are especially beneficial. Research shows that these fats can help improve attention span, reduce hyperactivity, and boost overall cognitive abilities. This is thought to be due to omega-3s’ role in improving neurotransmitter efficiency, especially in the pathways involving dopamine and serotonin, which are critical for focus, mood regulation, and impulse control. [PMC4968854]
  • Magnesium: Magnesium plays a crucial role in neurological health, particularly for children with ADHD. This mineral has a calming effect on the nervous system and is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, many of which contribute to brain function. Magnesium can help regulate neurotransmitter systems, which is important for mood, attention, and behavioral regulation. Children with ADHD who have low magnesium levels may particularly benefit from supplementation. Magnesium can aid in improving attention, reducing hyperactivity, and enhancing overall cognitive function. It is also known for its ability to help with sleep and anxiety, which are often areas of concern in children with ADHD. [PMID: 9368235]
  • Melatonin: Children with ADHD often struggle with sleep disturbances, which can worsen their brain function and ADHD symptoms. Sleep may be especially difficult for those taking stimulant medications. Melatonin is a hormone that plays a key role in regulating sleep-wake cycles. Supplementing with melatonin can help regulate their sleep patterns, leading to improvements in attention, behavior, and overall well-being. Melatonin supplementation can be particularly useful for establishing a more consistent sleep schedule, aiding in falling asleep, and enhancing sleep quality. Better sleep can have a positive impact on cognitive functions and day-to-day behavior in children with ADHD, making it an important aspect of their overall treatment plan. [PMC6410756] [PMID: 33121289]
  • L-Theanine: L-Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, is known for its calming effects on the brain. It has been shown to improve focus, attention, and relaxation, making it a potential supplement for children with ADHD. L-Theanine is believed to influence brain chemicals such as GABA, dopamine, and serotonin, which are involved in mood, sleep, emotion, and stress regulation. By modulating these neurotransmitters, L-Theanine can help reduce anxiety and hyperactivity while improving focus and attention. Its calming effect can also be beneficial in managing sleep issues and reducing stress levels, both common concerns in children with ADHD. [PMID: 22214254] [PMC8794723] [PMC7403383] [PMC6574559]
  • Probiotics: The gut-brain axis is a growing area of interest in the research of ADHD, with emerging evidence suggesting a link between gut health and brain function. Probiotics, which support a healthy balance of gut flora, may play a role in managing ADHD by improving gut health. A healthy gut microbiome can influence neurotransmitter production, reduce inflammation, and impact mood and cognitive function. Probiotics may help in regulating mood, behavior, and cognitive functions, which are often areas of concern in children with ADHD. Ensuring a healthy gut environment can be a key part of a holistic approach to managing ADHD. [PMID: 31965841] [PMC7830868]

Other Supplements Used in ADHD

  • Pycnogenol (Pine Bark Extract): Known for its antioxidant properties, it’s suggested to help with managing symptoms of ADHD, though more research is needed. A blinded study showed that 1 mg/kg (0.45mg/pound) of pycnogenol improved ADHD symptoms in children. [PMID: 16699814]
  • Citicoline: Citicoline may also have a role in treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some studies have shown that it may improve symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. [PMID: 26179181] [PMC4517431][PMC7878037]
  • Ginkgo Biloba: Known for cognitive-enhancing properties, it’s thought to improve attention and memory, though its effectiveness specifically for ADHD is still being evaluated. [PMID: 32329705] [PMID: 25925875]
  • Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri): An Ayurvedic herb that shows promise in improving cognitive functions and reducing stress and anxiety, which are often co-occurring issues in ADHD. [PMID: 24682000]
  • Rhodiola Rosea: An adaptogen that may help with stress management, a common challenge for individuals with ADHD. It’s believed to enhance mental stamina and resilience.
  • Phosphatidylserine: This phospholipid is important for brain cell membrane function and may aid in improving mental focus, memory, and cognitive abilities. [PMID: 23495677]
  • Tyrosine: Research does not support it as a stand-alone approach to ADHD. Still, as a precursor to dopamine, this amino acid is sometimes included in supplements to address neurotransmitter imbalances in ADHD, potentially helping with focus and attention. [PMID: 19344299]
  • Asian Ginseng: Some studies suggest that ginseng could improve cognitive function and behavioral symptoms in children with ADHD. [PMC7006981]
  • Valerian Root: Known for its sedative properties, it’s sometimes used to help manage sleep problems associated with ADHD. [PMC10474921]

Dietary supplements are not designed to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This article aims to offer valuable insights into which nutritional supplements have undergone scientific study and shown promise in supporting specific health conditions. We break down the research, so you can work with your medical providers to make informed decisions about adding supplements to your health regimen. For personalized advice tailored to your needs, we recommend consulting with a registered dietitian in addition to your primary care provider.

Check with your physician when adding supplements. While supplements are generally safe for most people, do not add nutritional supplements without your physician’s specific approval if you are pregnant or nursing, are undergoing cancer treatment, have a history of organ transplant, liver or kidney disease, or take medications that interact with supplements.

ADHD Supplement Safety Information

When considering the use of supplements the supplements listed above, it’s reassuring to know that these are generally regarded as safe when used appropriately. Most of these supplements are naturally occurring substances in the body or derived from herbs and foods we consume, making them well-tolerated by most individuals. For instance, Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats beneficial for brain health, and minerals like zinc, iron, and magnesium play crucial roles in numerous bodily functions. Herbal supplements such as Ginkgo Biloba and Brahmi have a long history of safe use. Similarly, substances like melatonin and L-Theanine are widely recognized for their safety and effectiveness in improving sleep and reducing anxiety. Probiotics, which support gut health, and a balanced multivitamin, which ensures an adequate intake of essential nutrients, can also be safe components of an ADHD management plan.

Medication Interactions:

  • Blood Thinners Interaction: Supplements like Omega-3 fatty acids, Ginkgo Biloba, and Ginseng can increase the risk of bleeding when taken with blood thinners such as Warfarin and Aspirin. Ginseng, in particular, may also affect blood clotting.
  • Antidepressant Interaction: Rhodiola Rosea can potentially interact with antidepressants by affecting serotonin levels. Ginseng might interfere with the effectiveness of certain antidepressants.
  • Antidiabetic Medications Interaction: For those on antidiabetic medications, Omega-3 fatty acids may require adjustments in medication as they can affect blood sugar levels. Similarly, Ginseng can lower blood sugar levels and interact with diabetes medications.
  • Antihypertensive Medications Interaction: Omega-3 fatty acids and high doses of Magnesium may lower blood pressure, potentially enhancing the effects of antihypertensive drugs.
  • Immunosuppressants Interaction: Ginseng might stimulate the immune system and could interfere with the action of immunosuppressants.
  • Sedatives Interaction: Sedatives and CNS depressants’ effects may be enhanced by supplements like Melatonin, Valerian Root, and L-Theanine.
  • Antibiotics Interaction: Iron and Zinc supplements can reduce the absorption and effectiveness of certain antibiotics.
  • Bisphosphonates Interaction: Calcium, common in multivitamins, can interfere with the absorption of bisphosphonates used for osteoporosis and may also affect the absorption of thyroid medications, similar to Iron.
  • Diuretics Interaction: Magnesium excretion can be increased by certain diuretics, possibly leading to deficiency.
  • Hormonal Contraceptives Interaction: St. John’s Wort can reduce the effectiveness of hormonal contraceptives.
  • Thyroid Medication Interaction: Iron can reduce the absorption and efficacy of thyroid medications. Calcium, common in multivitamins, can interfere with thyroid medication absorption.
  • Cytochrome P450 Enzymes Interaction: Ginkgo Biloba and Valerian Root may interact with drugs metabolized by liver enzymes.

Supplement Interactions:

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Can interact with other fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin D, potentially affecting their absorption and efficacy.
  • Zinc: High doses of zinc can interfere with the absorption and metabolism of other minerals, especially copper and iron.
  • Iron: Excessive iron supplementation can reduce the absorption of zinc and potentially interact with calcium absorption.
  • Magnesium: High levels of magnesium can interfere with the absorption of other minerals like calcium and can affect the balance of other electrolytes.
  • Vitamin B6: Over-supplementation of Vitamin B6 can lead to imbalances in other B vitamins, such as B12 and folate.
  • Melatonin: While primarily a hormone, melatonin supplementation can interact with other supplements that affect sleep and relaxation, like L-Theanine and Valerian Root.
  • L-Theanine: May interact with other supplements that have a calming or sedative effect, such as Valerian Root or melatonin.
  • Vitamin D: High doses can affect the metabolism of calcium and phosphorus, and can interact with other fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamin A and Vitamin K.
  • Probiotics: Can interact with high doses of minerals like iron and magnesium, as these minerals might affect the gut environment and the efficacy of probiotics.
  • Ginkgo Biloba: Can affect the metabolism of other herbal supplements due to its influence on blood circulation and metabolism.
  • Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri): Its effects on cognition and stress can be influenced by other supplements that affect the brain and nervous system.
  • Rhodiola Rosea: When taken with other adaptogens or stimulants, it can affect overall efficacy and balance.
  • Phosphatidylserine: The effectiveness of phosphatidylserine can be influenced by other fatty acids and fat-soluble nutrients.
  • Ginseng: Can interact with other energy-boosting supplements, potentially leading to an imbalance in energy levels or sleep patterns.
  • Pycnogenol (Pine Bark Extract): Its antioxidant properties can be influenced by other antioxidants in the diet or supplement regimen.
  • Valerian Root: When taken with other supplements that have sedative properties, such as L-Theanine or melatonin, the overall calming effect can be enhanced.
  • Multivitamin: The balance of nutrients in a multivitamin can be influenced by individual nutrient supplements taken alongside it, especially if they are in high doses.

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Food First!

Although this article discusses supplements in detail, don’t forget that we are absolutely committed to the “Food First” approach to nutrition. When it comes to your health, the totality of your eating habits far surpasses the impact of individual nutrients or any single supplement you consume. Even though this article doesn’t delve into the broader picture of your overall diet, it’s crucial to keep this element at the forefront of our minds. Your food needs to provide all the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals to nourish your body systems down to the cellular level.

Food choices, rather than supplements, are the most critical factors for a healthy gut microbiome. These trillions of tiny inhabitants in your gut affect your brain waves; they orchestrate your immune system. They possess the power to create molecules that can switch genes on or off and are even capable of synthesizing neurotransmitters. Opting for organic foods and steering clear of plastic packaging (including those labeled BPA-free) is a smart move to limit toxin exposure. The sum of all these parts leads to a powerful conclusion: the ultimate key to your health lies in the quality and balance of the food you consume. Supplements are secondary.

What Lab Tests Might Be Helpful In Managing ADHD?

The problem with being diagnosed with ADHD is that it is based purely on symptoms with very little attention given to potential causes. The problem is that ADHD symptoms can be almost exactly the same as symptoms of other health problems. Toxicities and nutritional deficiencies should be ruled out.

  • Lead Toxicity: Lead Screening involves testing the blood for lead levels. Lead toxicity, especially in children, can lead to developmental delays and behavioral issues similar to those seen in ADHD, making it important to rule out this environmental risk factor. Order a lead test online through our affiliate link.
  • Anemia: The Complete Blood Count (CBC) is a fundamental test that provides a detailed count of different blood cells, helping to diagnose conditions like anemia which can manifest in symptoms similar to ADHD, such as fatigue and difficulty concentrating. Additionally, checking Iron and Ferritin Levels is critical because iron deficiency anemia can impact cognitive function and behavior, potentially exacerbating or mimicking ADHD symptoms.
  • Mineral Deficiencies: Testing for Magnesium and Zinc Levels is important as deficiencies in these minerals are associated with symptoms like inattention and hyperactivity.
  • Omega-3 Deficiency: Additionally, a Fatty Acid Profile can be informative, as it assesses the levels of essential fatty acids, including Omega-3, which are vital for brain health and cognitive function.
  • Vitamin Deficiencies: Vitamin D Levels are tested through a blood test, as a deficiency in Vitamin D is linked to various neurological and cognitive issues. Adequate Vitamin D is important for brain development and function, and its deficiency could be related to ADHD symptoms.
  • Food Allergies/Sensitivities: Allergy Testing, which can include blood tests or skin prick tests, identifies potential food allergies or sensitivities. These can sometimes contribute to behavioral issues and attentional problems, thereby mimicking or exacerbating ADHD symptoms.
  • Genetic Conditions: Genetic Testing can help identify or rule out various genetic disorders that might present symptoms similar to ADHD. It involves analyzing DNA to detect genetic disorders, which can be crucial in understanding the broader context of a patient’s symptoms.

To Sum It Up

Even though nutrition is not a part of the typical medical approach to ADHD, studies cited in this article show that nutrients in the form of food and supplements have the power to get at the root causes of brain dysfunction in ADHD. Studies have increasingly supported the role of specific nutrients in managing ADHD symptoms. For instance, Omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, iron, and magnesium have all been the subject of research studies that show their potential in improving focus and helping in behavioral regulation for those with ADHD.

This research shows that the use of these supplements in addition to good food choices should be a part of every ADHD management plan. Think about consulting a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for personalized advice.

This Article is Not a Substitute for Medical Advice

Dietary supplements are not designed to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The Supplement Sciences website seeks to provide comprehensive access to the most relevant supplement information along with convenient online ordering. We do not provide medical advice and cannot guarantee that every product suggested is completely without risk. Since each person is unique in their health history and medication use, it is important to discuss supplements with your personal physician. Specifically, pregnant women and individuals being treated for cancer or liver or kidney problems must consult their physician about every nutritional supplement they plan to take. People taking medications for the treatment of HIV or with a history of organ transplant must not take supplements without consulting with their physician.

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