For children with ADHD, behavioral therapy and medications are the primary options for treating symptoms, recommended for use in tandem for children ages 6 and older by the American Academy of Pediatrics. But some parents are wary of ADHD medication because of their Side effects, which may include loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and growth failure. However, therapy alone may not be enough to help children manage troublesome disorders. symptoms such as impulsiveness and difficulty staying focused on a task. Now another option – micronutrients – may help some children with ADHD who aren’t taking medication, according to the results of a recent study.
Micronutrients are not your usual supplements. They contain a high dose of vitamins and minerals, as well as amino acids and antioxidants, according to Jeanette Johnstone, Ph.D., a child and adolescent psychologist at Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine and lead author of the study. Nutrients may be present in greater amounts than you would find in a typical multivitamin. And the micronutrient formula used in the study contained all of the known essential vitamins and minerals that people need, Johnstone says.
For the study, researchers gave 71 children with both ADHD and irritable mood micronutrients for eight weeks and 55 children a placebo. They found that children who received the micronutrients were three times more likely to see a significant reduction in bothersome ADHD symptoms compared to children who took the placebo.
In the micronutrient group, 56% of children saw their ADHD symptoms decrease in severity, compared to 22% of children in the placebo group. Children in the micronutrient group also ended up with a lower average score on a measure of peer conflict than those in the placebo group.
The percentage of children whose ADHD symptoms became less severe after taking micronutrients.
Johnstone studied a similar broad-spectrum micronutrient formula in children with ADHD in New Zealand. In this previous studyshe found that “micronutrients improved overall function, reduced impairments, and improved inattention, emotional regulation, and aggression, but not hyperactive/impulsive symptoms” compared to a placebo.
Many other studies have focused largely on one nutrient (like zinc or omega-3s) by itself, says Kathleen Holton, Ph.D., MPH, a nutritional neuroscientist at American University, who was not involved in the study. However, micronutrients “do not work in isolation in the body,” but “work together to optimize nervous system function,” says Holton.
The new study “adds important insights” into how these micronutrient formulas may play a role in reducing ADHD symptoms in children, she adds. However, “more research is needed in children before clear recommendations can be made.”
Should you get micronutrients for your child with ADHD?
Don’t rush to your local pharmacy just yet. Not only is more research needed, but not all vitamin and mineral formulas work the same. The Johnstone team used a specific formula called “Daily Essential Nutrients” developed by Robust nutritionalswho provided the capsules used in the study free of charge.
“Breadth of nutrients” is important, says Johnstone. “I think parents are going to wonder if they can go to Costco and get an over-the-counter vitamin/mineral supplement,” but those products might offer too few of the necessary vitamins. Many also don’t contain all of the types of minerals found in formulas like the one used in the study.
The dosage is also crucial. In Johnstone’s study, children took capsules three times a day with food, for a total of nine to 12 tablets per day. The researchers chose these amounts so that children would take between the “recommended daily allowance” (RDA) and the upper tolerable intake level of vitamins and minerals each day.
“The RDA, historically speaking, was developed to address frank nutritional deficiencies that could impact an individual’s health,” says Johnstone. “It’s a very low bar” and it’s not a clear indicator that someone is getting enough nutrients, she says. Additionally, the RDA guideline “was established for otherwise healthy people”, and having a mental health condition such as ADHD signals that “things are happening that affect your health”.
But taking too much of certain vitamins and minerals can be harmful. “The upper limit of tolerable intake is the highest level of a daily nutrient that is unlikely to have adverse health effects for nearly all individuals,” says Johnstone.
Giving supplements near the upper limit is generally “not recommended,” says Holton. “I would definitely recommend discussing the use of a higher dose supplement with their pediatrician so the child can be monitored for adverse effects and abnormal blood test results.”
The researchers monitored participants’ blood and urine during the study, and they detected no negative health effects of the micronutrients.
In general, starting to give your child micronutrients without expert advice may not be a good idea, especially if your child is already taking ADHD medication. Micronutrients can enhance the effects of the drug, increasing the possibility of side effects, Johnstone says. If you’re starting to give your child micronutrients, you’ll likely need a doctor’s help to find the safest way to lower your child’s ADHD medication dose while introducing micronutrient formula.