Treatment for ADHD: Are Natural Supplements and Vitamins Effective?

Written by Jeannette Belliveau | Published on January 22, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on January 22, 2014

The Natural Path

If you or your child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you’ll want to use every possible tool at your disposal for easing symptoms.

Useful tools for ADHD include behavioral changes, medication, support from teachers, and parent education. Scientists are studying whether vitamins and natural supplements can help improve mental focus for ADHD patients.

Better Focus?

A study of 117 children in England found that treatment with omega-3 and omega-6 supplements led to fewer ADHD symptoms. Essential fatty acids helped the students to focus better on reading and spelling and to behave better in the classroom.

Millichap and Yee note that not all the research papers they reviewed showed clear benefits. Nonetheless, they recommend omega-3 and -6 supplements in addition to medication.

Iron and Zinc Supplements

Millichap and Yee tested their Chicago patients to find out if low iron played a role in ADHD symptoms. However, they didn’t see significant differences in the severity of ADHD symptoms in patients with iron deficiency.

Their review of literature on zinc revealed that low zinc levels in the United States were linked with inattention. They did not find links with hyperactivity or impulsive behavior.  

Low zinc levels are endemic in the Middle East. This may be a factor for children with ADHD who are from Turkey or Iran. Millichap and Yee recommend zinc supplements for treating Middle Eastern children when needed.

St. John’s Wort

Scientists at Bastyr University outside Seattle studied whether St. John’s wort could help children with ADHD. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) funded the study.

Scientists gave either St. John’s wort or a placebo to a volunteer group of 54 children. Symptoms improved in both groups of children. The researchers concluded that St. John’s wort had no apparent impact on inattentiveness and hyperactivity beyond that of a placebo.

Other Herbs

Researchers at the University of Melbourne’s Department of Psychiatry took a similar look at medical literature. They zeroed in on herbal and nutritional products designed for patients with attention deficits.

Zinc, iron, French maritime bark (Pinus marinus), and Ningdong (a Chinese herbal formula) showed the strongest evidence for effectiveness.

Promising candidates for future research include the Western Pacific drink kava, as well as the Indian traditional medicine brahmi.

Value of a Healthy Diet

The “Western” or unhealthy diet may not be directly responsible for ADHD. However, it may reflect a family that is functioning poorly. Poor family function may lead the hyperactive child to crave snack foods rich in fat.

Alternately, it may reflect impulsiveness toward quick snacks when hungry, say Raine researchers. Instead, a healthy diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fish may provide needed omega-3s, folate, and fiber.

Talk with your doctor about your diet and if supplements or vitamins may be useful for you.

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