Vitamins and Supplements for ADHD

Ever wondered if alternative treatments like vitamins and supplements can help with ADHD symptoms?

There are things you should know before you try any so-called remedy.

Some alternative treatments are safe, inexpensive, and easy to get -- but there might not be proof that they work. And none of these options are meant to replace proven ADHD treatments.

Some “natural” or alternative treatments might be unsafe, too. Certain ones can mix dangerously with prescription medicines. And don’t assume that vitamins or supplements are safe just because they’re billed as being “natural.” Most don’t have to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Talk to your doctor about any alternative treatment before taking it. Here’s what we know about certain supplements.

Zinc for ADHD Symptoms

Some studies suggest that children with ADHD may have lower levels of zinc in their body. And some scientists say kids with the disorder who took zinc supplements along with traditional ADHD treatment had an improvement in their symptoms.

Several studies have shown a drop in hyperactivity and impulsivity with zinc supplements. The same research, though, reports no change in inattentiveness, which is another key symptom of ADHD. A 2005 study in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, though, did show a link between zinc levels and teacher- and parent-rated inattention in children.

Foods high in zinc include oysters and other seafood, red meat, poultry, dairy products, beans, nuts, whole grains, and fortified cereals.

There is some evidence that fish oil can help improve ADHD symptoms. It contains omega-3 fatty acids. Some findings suggest that fish oil supplements may improve the mental skills of children with the disorder who are 8 to 12 years old. For instance, it may help improve a child's ability to organize activities.

The FDA has approved a prescription-strength omega-3 compound for ADHD. This compound is not technically a medication. It’s considered a “medical food.”

A specific supplement of fish oil and evening primrose oil was used in one study. The results showed improvements with hyperactivity, inattentiveness, ability to think clearly, and overall behavior in children with ADHD who were 7 to 12 years old.

Fish high in omega-3s include salmon, albacore tuna, herring, mackerel, trout, and sardines.

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St. John's Wort: No Help for ADHD

This common herbal supplement might affect brain chemicals. It's used to treat depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders.

But studies don’t recommend using it to treat ADHD. Recent research finds that St. John's wort has no effect on the symptoms of the disorder.

Other Natural Supplements for ADHD

There’s some evidence that certain natural supplements might help. A combo of American ginseng and Ginkgo leaf improved ADHD symptoms in children ages 3 to 17 in one study. More research is needed to confirm the finding, though.

The natural hormone melatonin might also help children with the disorder who take certain ADHD medications. Researchers say it improved sleep problems in these children. But melatonin doesn’t seem to improve ADHD symptoms.

Natural supplements like GABA and inositol aren’t proven to help against symptoms either. Also, experts don’t know if they’re safe.

Some people think ADHD symptoms happen or get worse because of a lack of something in their diets. But the jury is still out on whether any dietary supplements can affect ADHD symptoms.

Some studies, though, suggest that children with ADHD might not have enough iron. One theory is that supplementing with iron may improve symptoms of the disorder, but that hasn’t been proven.

Check with your doctor before you give your child any supplement. Taking too much iron, for instance, can be toxic -- even deadly.

Also check with the doctor before you use any natural supplement. That includes mega-doses of vitamins or minerals. There's a chance they could do more harm than good, and they may cause problems with prescribed medications.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on May 01, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

National Resource Center on AD/HD: "Complementary and Alternative Treatments."

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "St. John's Wort Shows No Impact on the Symptoms of ADHD."

ParentsMedGuide.org: "Do Alternative Treatments for ADHD, Such as Special Diets or Herbal Supplements, Really Work?"

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