The Best Vitamins and Supplements for ADHD

The Best Vitamins and Supplements for ADHD

ADHD is a complex neurological condition.

Fortunately, when we understand that ADHD is a whole body condition we can begin by addressing the body to influence the brain.

The biochemistry and underlying factors in the body affect the brain, learning, attention, and behavior, and we can influence those through nutrition.

Let’s discuss some important nutrients in ADHD.

Magnesium and B6

Magnesium is a good place to start. Magnesium is important for muscle relaxation, energy production, and activating enzymes –there are over 300 functions in the human body that involve magnesium. Parents often notice that supplementing magnesium aids sleep and helps reduce tics, anxiety, hyperactivity, and depression in their child.

Studies have shown that magnesium is low in children with ADHD and that supplementation can improve blood levels and significantly decrease hyperactivity.1 In another study, a combination of magnesium and vitamin B6 produced similar results.2

B6 helps convert folate to the active form in the folate cycle and is important for methylation.

Magnesium intake requirements vary from about 130- 400 mg (or more) depending on the age and needs of the child. Professionals have differing opinions on how much magnesium to supplement in relation to calcium – recommendations for the ratio of calcium to magnesium range widely from 2:1, 1:1, and 1:2.

Zinc

Zinc is another important nutrient, and used it also used in more than 300 enzyme reactions. It has many uses in the body from: growth and repair to immune and antioxidant support. And it’s important in the brain, including that it regulates neuronal excitability. Zinc is also a very important co-factor for converting B6 into its active form (P5P). And P5P helps create neurotransmitters like serotonin.

As we discuss below, serotonin is important in executive function and social behavior, as well as mood/happiness, factors in ADHD.

And on a biochemical level we see children with ADHD significantly lower levels of zinc.3,4 . And studies show supplementation with zinc improves ADHD.5  

Zinc is a good supplement to try with ADHD. Just be careful to consume it with food, as it can cause nausea on an empty stomach.

Folate and B12

Folate is an important B vitamin. Particularly because it’s a crucial step at the beginning of the methylation cycle. Methylation handles so many things including myelination of the nerves, allergy response, energy production, and neurotransmitter levels. And Vitamin B12 is an important part of methylation as well as it is the link between the folate cycle and the methylation cycle.

MTHFR (5, 10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) gene variants are common in ADHD.6 Meaning it is likely folate levels will be low in the child with ADHD, as poor MTHFR function can cause low folate. And folate is crucial for neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. As such supplementing folate may help ADHD.

Vitamins A and D

Fat-soluble vitamins stem primarily from the fat content of animal foods. You don’t find them in plant foods in high amounts because it’s animals that create them. Cows convert beta-carotene to vitamin A, and convert sunlight into vitamin D. Animal fats and foods are rich sources of these vitamins, they include: dairy, beef, lard, bacon, liver, cod liver oil, and fish eggs. Note: Every human culture throughout time included some form of animal protein/fat in their diet. Since some people do not get enough vitamin D, supplementation can really help. Vitamin D alone has been linked to ADHD; particularly, related to maternal supplementation.

And vitamin D supplementation along with omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to improve ADHD. This is because these nutrients control serotonin production, and serotonin regulates executive function, sensory gating, and social behavior: three factors found in ADHD and impulsive behavior. Omega-3 can improve symptoms. so researchers have recommended vitamin D and omega-3 to reduce rates of ADHD in the population.7

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids

In addition to the study on vitamin D and omega-3s, there are more studies on omega-3 by itself, as well as in combination with omega-6.

Furthermore, Omega-3 and omega-6 have been found to be low in children with ADHD and that supplementation improves symptoms. And studies have found a reduction in hyperactivity and inattentiveness from omega-3 supplementation.8

Omega-3 is most readily found in fish and fish oil in our diet. However, since many children do not consume enough, supplementation can be helpful.

Multivitamin-mineral

The great thing about a multivitamin-mineral formula is that they contain all of the above nutrients, except the fatty acids. Although, sometimes not am optimal full dose.

Since they contain a wide range of nutrients including magnesium, zinc, folate, and all the vitamins and minerals described here, it would make sense that a multivitamin-mineral could improve the symptoms of ADHD. And in fact, the research shows that it does, including adults with ADHD.9,10  

And in our diet and nutrition study on children with autism, that included a multivitamin-mineral formula and a healthy gluten-free, dairy-free and soy-free diet, we found significant improvement with in hyperactivity, as well as attention/focus.11

Food vs. Supplements

Of course it’s always best to get our nutrients from whole foods. But considering the issues of food supply access and quality, very selective specialized diets, and common picky eating seen with autism and ADHD – food alone is often not adequate.

Some children even have biochemical imbalances that require greater supplementation than food can provide, or there may be a blocked/inhibited biochemical pathway that requires an active form of a nutrient to supply what’s needed.

Ensuring good nutrition for any specialized diet can be complex; there are many considerations of food choices and ways to augment mineral and vitamin needs.

All nutrients are crucial, and balance is important. Eating a whole foods diet will go a long way to meeting your child’s needs. Then supplement wisely, and as needed, to reach an optimal nutrient level for your child.

Download my guide, The 6 Nutrition Essentials for Improving Health, Learning, and Behavior in Your Child – it include 6 steps including “Supplement Wisely” – along with other nutrition strategies for improving ADHD.

Share your experience with us. Which vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and other supplements have made the most difference for you or your child?


1 Starobrat-Hermelin, B., and T. Kozielec. “The effects of magnesium physiological supplementation on hyperactivity in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Positive response to magnesium oral loading test.” Magnesium research 10.2 (1997): 149-156.

2 Mousain-Bosc, Marianne, et al. “Magnesium VitB6 intake reduces central nervous system hyperexcitability in children.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 23.5 (2004): 545S-548S.

3 Bekaroǧlu, Mehmet, et al. “Relationships between serum free fatty acids and zinc, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a research note.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry37.2 (1996): 225-227.

4 Arnold, L. Eugene, et al. “Serum zinc correlates with parent-and teacher-rated inattention in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Journal of Child & Adolescent Psychopharmacology 15.4 (2005): 628-636.

5 Dodig-Curković, K., et al. “The role of zinc in the treatment of hyperactivity disorder in children.” Acta medica Croatica: casopis Hravatske akademije medicinskih znanosti 63.4 (2009): 307-313.

6 Spellicy, Catherine J., et al. “Folate metabolism gene 5, 10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) is associated with ADHD in myelomeningocele patients.” PloS one 7.12 (2012): e51330.

7 Patrick, Rhonda P., and Bruce N. Ames. “Vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids control serotonin synthesis and action, part 2: relevance for ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and impulsive behavior.” The FASEB Journal 29.6 (2015): 2207-2222

8 Hawkey, Elizabeth, and Joel T. Nigg. “Omega− 3 fatty acid and ADHD: Blood level analysis and meta-analytic extension of supplementation trials.” Clinical Psychology Review 34.6 (2014): 496-505.

9 Rucklidge, Julia J., et al. “Vitamin–Mineral Treatment of ADHD in Adults: A 1-Year Naturalistic Follow-Up of a Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of attention disorders 21.6 (2017): 522-532

10 Rucklidge, Julia J., et al. “Vitamin–mineral treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults: double-blind randomised placebo-controlled trial.” The British Journal of Psychiatry 204.4 (2014): 306-315.

11 Adams J.B., Audhya T., Geis E., Gehn E., Fimbres V., Pollard E.L., Mitchell J., Ingram J., Hellmers R., Laake D., Matthews J.S., Li K., Naviaux J.C., Naviaux R.K., Adams R.L., Coleman D.M., Quig D.W.. Comprehensive Nutritional and Dietary Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder-A Randomized, Controlled 12-Month Trial. Nutrients. 2018 Mar 17;10(3). pii: E369.

Hi, I’m Julie Matthews, a Certified Nutrition Consultant, Author, and Published Researcher. I teach parents and practitioners that children with autism, ADHD, and related disorders can improve and heal, and that there’s hope for their children. Then I educate and empower them to make strategic dietary changes that positively affect children’s health, which in turn helps their learning and behavior. With 17 years of experience and my unique range of knowledge, from nutrition research and clinical experience to cooking in the kitchen for my own family, I’ve created a much-needed community for parents and practitioners looking to help children with autism live happy, healthy lives. Join us.

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