Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) now affects between five and 10% of our school-aged children, most of them boys. It is characterized by hyperactivity, distractedness and difficulty with problem solving that can cause learning and behavioural problems in the classroom.

The standard medical treatment for ADHD is Ritalin or similar amphetamine drugs. Because of the possibility of serious side effects from these drugs, some parents of children with ADHD symptoms have opted for a nutritional approach, based on a growing body of research.

Back in 1995, a well publicized study reported that children suffering ADHD tend to be deficient in key essential fatty acids (EFAs). Since then, many more studies point to other nutrient deficiencies that appear to be linked to ADHD. Here are some of them.

Magnesium: A 1997 study found that 95% of children with ADHD were deficient in magnesium. In a related study the same year, children with ADHD and low magnesium status were given 200 mg of magnesium daily for six months and reported to have “a significant decrease of hyperactivity” compared with those children who did not get magnesium.

Iron: Last year, researchers from the European Pediatric Hospital in Paris found that 84% of children with ADHD had lower iron levels compared to only 18% of children in a control group. Low iron levels were also associated with more severe ADHD symptoms and cognitive problems. The results mirror those from a 1997 study in which boys with ADHD were evaluated for their iron levels and the effect of short-term (30-day) iron supplementation. As iron levels rose, parents verified their children’s ADHD behaviour improved.

EFAs: Building on the 1995 findings, researchers at Oxford gave ADHD children a combination of fish oil and evening primrose oil, or a placebo, for 12 weeks. In 2002 they reported “significant improvements” on seven out of 14 diagnostic scales for those taking the EFAs, compared to none for placebo group.

Zinc: Reports that zinc deficiency may play a role in ADHD prompted two studies published in 2004. In one, 400 boys and girls with ADHD were given either zinc or a placebo. Researchers found that zinc reduced symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity and impaired socialization. In the second study, zinc was given alongside standard Ritalin treatment and found to bring greater behavioral improvement, compared with children who received Ritalin and a placebo.

Sources: Magnes Res 1997;10:149–56; Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2004;158:1113-1115; Neuropsychobiology. 1997;35(4):178-80;Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2002 Feb;26(2):233-9; Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2004 Jan;28(1):181-90