Children's Health

ADHD: the nutrient connection in adults and children

By Bruce Polack

Mom and Daughter with healthy vegetables

ADHD includes a combination of persistent symptoms, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviour. The cause is considered multi-factorial, involving genetic predisposition, perinatal health, environment, and socioeconomic factors.

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder,  ADHD, is a chronic condition that affects millions of children and adults.

Children with ADHD may struggle with low self-esteem, troubled relationships, and poor performance in school.

While these issues may lessen with age, some will never completely outgrow their symptoms. People of all ages living with ADHD may benefit from nutritional strategies.

Beyond removing junk foods and chemicals from the diet to encourage better gut health, a good multivitamin may lead the way to a healthier microbiome and healthier signals to the brain.

When we consider the nutrients typically contained in high-quality multivitamins, it seems that daily supplements have the potential to mitigate ADHD symptoms and support overall health, with minimal risk.

Children with ADHD may require targeted nutrients at therapeutic dose ranges, and doctor testing is recommended. But, initially, a multivitamin/mineral product is an easy place to start, and a basic treatment guideline for the condition. 

In the first fully blinded, randomized, controlled trial of medication-free children with ADHD, 93 patients, ages 7 to 12, were randomized to receive either micronutrients or placebo for 10 weeks.  

Children on the multivitamin displayed reduced aggression, improved attention, and improved emotional regulation. However, no improvements in hyperactive/impulsive symptoms were demonstrated. 

While many of the nutrients in a multivitamin product may enhance health, some nutrients, in particular, have demonstrated their relevance in the treatment of ADHD and related conditions.

Vitamin D3

Fat-soluble Vitamin D exerts anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, neuroprotective, and neurotrophic effects – actions that may directly oppose the pathogenesis of ADHD. This key nutrient has also been shown to facilitate serotonergic and dopaminergic functions, making it a further consideration in paediatric and adult neurology. 


Magnesium is involved in more than 300 essential metabolic reactions in the body, from energy production to DNA synthesis. While it is often noted for its cardiovascular health, musculoskeletal health, and metabolic function, magnesium also facilitates central nervous system communication (CNS) and calming.

The manifestations of magnesium deficiency include reduced attention span, irritability, fatigue, lack of concentration, nervousness, and increased aggression many of the same symptoms observed in those with ADHD. It no surprise, then, that magnesium has been shown to be of particular benefit to hyperactive children.

Children with ADHD are more likely to be magnesium deficient. In one study, magnesium deficiency was observed in 95% of children with ADHD, and other trials have demonstrated the value of magnesium in alleviating ADHD-related hyperactivity.

In another trial, 72% of children with ADHD (18 out of 25) were found to be magnesium deficient; a significant correlation between hair magnesium levels and total IQ was further revealed. Supplementation with 200 mg of magnesium daily (in addition to standard medical treatment) for 8 weeks in these children improved their symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity by 77.7% and 88.9%, respectively.  


While severe iodine deficiency and related cretinism have been nearly eliminated across the globe, the rate of iodine deficiency has been on the rise in the Americas. This is likely due to our decreasing intake of iodized salt and low intake of sea vegetables. 

A 2016 study of 89 children with ADHD found 71.9% to be iodine deficient, and further revealed a significant association between urinary iodine levels and hyperactivity.

Iodine deficiency has been implicated in impaired cognitive function during childhood and adolescence. Iodine’s role in neurodevelopment during pregnancy and the first 1,000 days of life is essential. Iodine deficiency, and the hypothyroidism it can cause, are both prenatal and postnatal risk factors for ADHD.


The B-vitamins are essential cofactors for countless reactions in the body. Vitamins B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate), and B12 (cobalamin) are key players in the neurotransmitter production that is essential for brain health and neurological function. B-vitamin deficiency can manifest as fatigue, difficulty learning/focusing, and mood disturbances, many of the same symptoms found in ADHD.  

Essential fatty acids

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are required for normal neurodevelopment and neuronal function. Omega-3 fatty acids modulate inflammation and directly impact neuronal membrane fluidity and receptor function. 

Low Omega-3 levels have been causally related to ADHD dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder, and other CNS-linked disorders, including poor cognition, depression, anxiety, and limited anger control.


A short-term pilot study in children and teens, 6-17 years old, with ADHD has shown saffron to be as effective at controlling symptoms as methylphenidate, the prescription drug Ritalin.

Researchers compared the effects of Crocus sativus L. to methylphenidate in 54 patients over a 6-week period and showed no significant difference in effectiveness as well as similar frequency of adverse effects when compared to Ritalin. The study also noted that saffron has anti-depressant and memory-enhancing properties.

Removing junk foods, healing the gut, and adding good nutrition via food and supplementation can assist in reducing the symptoms of ADHD.

Parents and patients concerned with the symptoms or effects of ADHD should speak to their trusted healthcare provider for patient-specific advice. 

Bruce Polack is passionate about natural health, and has been involved in the field, for over 20 years. He is the Natural Health Manager of the West Vancouver Pure Integrative Pharmacy on Marine Drive. He is also Pure’s Corporate Trainer.