Editor’s note: Please welcome back nutritionist Karen Ryan from The ADDvocates. Karen specializes in non-medicinal ways to manage ADHD, and has some insights to share about minerals and vitamins for ADHD. I’ve added my own notes throughout her article, in italics.
In my last article, 6 Ways to Help Manage ADHD … in Your Kitchen, I grazed the topic of some subtle food changes that should be made to help relieve some ADHD symptoms. These, by no means, will “cure” ADHD but it will certainly help and is a great starting point.
ADHD is diverse and by this I mean that it is not a simple disorder that has a one pronged therapy. ADHD is a multi-faceted disorder that requires a multi-faceted approach. One of the main areas is through natural remedies for ADHD; specifically, improved nutrition and the use of supplements.
Minerals & vitamins for ADHD
Vitamins: we all need them for various issues but, for the most part, our overall health and wellness. If you have a well-balanced diet, then you shouldn’t really need to take extra vitamins (or minerals), right? Well, for the most part, that is correct, but there are numerous circumstances where this is not the case; ADHD being one of them.
The effect that vitamins and minerals can have on the human body is almost similar to that of a medication, if taken properly. They should be taken every day at roughly the same time each day (morning preferred) and in either liquid or pill (or gel cap) form. The gummy variety should not be an option ever as they are usually loaded with food dyes, additives and sugar and a very minimal amount of vitamin. Please check with your doctor first before starting a new supplement regime just to be on the safe side. Many nutrients work synergistically with one another, and you won’t really know if it’s effective for at least two weeks so give it some time to let your body (or your child’s body) metabolize it and absorb it effectively.
Below is a list of the most effective (and successful) supplements and what they are generally used for. More specific information on supplement recommendations and dosages can be found in my book, ADHD is Not a Four Letter Word: Drug Free Strategies for Managing the Gift that is ADHD.
To help get you started right away, I’ve included food sources, as a good starting point to get more of these specific nutrients through diet.
Thiamine (Vitamin B1):
Helps improve behavior.
Niacin (Vitamin B3):
Helpful for symptoms of hyperactivity, weakening school performance, and helps maintain social relationships.
Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6):
Highly effective in treating hyperactivity.
B-vitamins are usually naturally found together in food, and if you’re supplementing, they work best taken as a B-complex, rather than individually isolated B-vitamins. B vitamins are naturally found together in foods such as: organ meat, fish, meat, nuts, sunflower seeds, brewer’s yeast, eggs, leafy greens and more. Keep in mind that B12 is a B-vitamin that is only found in animal foods.
Relieves excessive fidgeting, anxiety and restlessness.
Aids with hyperactivity. (Just as an aside, when used with magnesium in the evening, it has a relaxing effect that aids in relieving anxiety and troubled sleep. A much better alternative than melatonin.)
Magnesium and calcium need to balance each other out, ideally in about a 1:1 ratio. Dairy products, while high in calcium, are low in magnesium and generally, most people are more deficient in magnesium than calcium. Good sources of calcium and magnesium are nuts, seeds, sardines and salmon with bones, and leafy green vegetables.
Assists in reducing hyperactivity, impulsivity and helping irritability.
Find zinc in foods such as oysters, red meat, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and eggs.
Aids with irritability, attentiveness and memory.
Be cautious in supplementing iron, as it is generally not recommended unless absolutely necessary. Your healthcare professional can help determine if low iron is due to a deficiency or poor absorption. Eating vitamin C-rich foods can help improve iron absorption and you can find iron in foods such as organ meats, red meat, egg yolks, nuts, beans. Cooking with cast iron can also help increase your iron intake as some iron does get transferred to food.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
Helps with focus, temper tantrums, sleep problems and improvement in mood and memory. This one, in my opinion, is the most important out of all of them when trying to improve ADHD symptoms. Many children have strong aversions to taking Omega 3 but there are many ways of taking it so you don’t get that fishy smell or “fish burps.” If you do happen to take the flax variety as opposed to the fish variety, the potency will not be as high so you will need to take much more flax oil than fish oil to get the equivalent amount of Omega-3.
Aside from coldwater fish such as salmon and halibut, choose organically-farmed, pasture-raised meats which have more Omega-3 than their conventionally-raised counterparts.
One of the keys of ADHD is education for everyone involved – the parents, the teacher, the coach, the ADHDer and anyone else who plays an important role in their life. I will never tell a parent to not medicate their child but what I will do is provide them with every single possible resource available to them and, if all else fails, then they can do what they need to do. So, my final words? Educate before you medicate!