What Nutrients Are You Missing (ADHD)
Some of the most common nutrient deficiencies found in kids with ADHD are:
Omega 3 fatty acids – The brain is composed of over 60% fat, so diets must have sufficient amounts of healthy fats in order for our brains to function well. One of the most important fats for the brain is omega 3s – known as essential fatty acids. Essential means that our body can not manufacture them, so they must be consumed. A 1996 Purdue University study revealed that kids with learning and behavior problems had lower levels of the omega 3 DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in their blood. Omega 3s can be found in fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines; as well as nuts, some seeds like chia, and fish oils, like Barleans Omega Swirl (which comes in yummy flavors).
B vitamins – Known as the Anti-Stress vitamins, B vitamins are important for energy, sleep cycles, and metabolism. B vitamins are also needed for the creation of important brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters. Because they are water soluble vitamins, B Vitamins are not stored in our bodies for very long – so they can very easily become depleted. Two of the B vitamins are particularly important for our brain functioning:
Vitamin B6*: is needed for the synthesis of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine – which are brain chemicals that regulate sleep cycles and focus/attention. Studies show that supplementation with Vitamin B6 with magnesium resulted in reduced central nervous system hyperactivity. *Although Vitamin B6 is water soluble, it is the one B vitamin that can accumulate and possibly lead to permanent nerve damage if taken in an excessively high a dose for long period of time. (learn more and see tolerable upper limits for Vitamin B6). It is recommended that you work with a Nutritionist or Health Practitioner when supplementing with high doses of vitamin B6.
Vitamin B12 is required for the synthesis of amino acids that promote concentration. A B 12 deficiency can cause kids to be hyper, anxious, and also cause obsessive behavior, and if serious – can lead to pernicious anemia and serious neurological issues. Vitamin B12 can only be manufactured by bacteria – so it is very common for people with food sensitivities or digestive issues to have deficiencies – so identifying food sensitivities and removing them will also improve B12 status. Also probiotics are beneficial for improvings gut bacteria as well. However, it is best to limit yogurt (which has probiotics, due to ADHD dairy sensitivity)
Although Vitamin B6 and B12 are of particular importance for treating ADHD, I always recommend taking all of the B vitamins together as a full complex – as they work best together synergistically.
Magnesium – it is estimated that 70% of the population could be deficient in magnesium, and up to 95% of kids with ADHD (read study). Magnesium is known as the calming mineral, and studies show that supplementing with magnesium can reduce hyperactivity in kids. Studies show that magnesium has also been shown to help with Tourette’s syndrome, which can co-exist with ADHD. The fourth most abundant mineral in the body, magnesium plays a key role in over 300 biochemical processes – including building strong bones, nerve functions, regulating blood pressure, maintaining body temperature, and for allowing muscles (including the heart) to release into a state of relaxation. Magnesium is important for healthy bones, as it helps calcium get into the bones, and also is important for synthesizing vitamin D. Calcium causes muscular contractions, while magnesium enables the muscles to release. Elevated calcium or depressed magnesium levels can cause muscles to stay in a contracted state. Low magnesium levels can be associated with constipation, restless leg syndrome, sleep issues, migraines, ADHD/hyperactivity, foot or eye twitches, muscle cramps/pain, irritability, and even an elevated risk of heart disease/stroke.
Zinc – low zinc can lead to slow growth, delayed puberty and picky eating, and it is also associated with attention issues. Taking ADHD medication can also deplete zinc levels. A study published in 2011 in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, found that those receiving a zinc supplement required 37% less amphetamine to receive the same results compared with those taking amphetamine plus placebo. The zinc appeared to improve the effectiveness of the amphetamine, so that a lower dose was needed for desired results. Studies have shown a positive correlation between zinc supplementation and behavior improvement.
Probiotics – Balancing out the flora in the gut is important for everyone – for immunity and remaining a healthy weight; but it is also important for our brain and mental health. Our guts and our brains are closely interconnected via the vagus nerve, which is the primary route for the gut bacteria to be transmitted to the brain. So if our gut health is imbalanced, we will not be able to properly produce the neurotransmitters that our brain needs for focus, memory, and attention. Our gut health is directly reflected in our mood too – studies show that there will be an increase in levels of anxiety when our gut health is imbalanced (for ways to balance the gut, check out our posts on bone broth)
High Quality Multivitamin – some kids with food sensitivities can have damage to the small intestine and therefore might have nutrient absorption issues, so even if they are taking a multivitamin or eating a high quality diet, they could still have deficiencies.