You’re told your child has ADHD. Some might say “Well, he’s a boy. Boys are more rambunctious,” while some may suggest medication or blame lack of discipline for your child’s behavior. Still others may suggest changing diet, taking Omega 3’s and cutting back on artificial food coloring – which I think is good advice. However did you know there are minerals that can help your child focus and feel calm?
Have your child’s ferritin levels checked. Psychostimulant medications such as Ritalin are often prescribed by physicians to treat a child’s ADHD symptoms. Why are psychostimulants prescribed? Because they affect levels of dopamine (a neurotransmitter in the brain that is associated with addiction) and a lot of people diagnosed with ADHD are suspected to have lower dopamine levels. A study published in 2013 states that brain iron is required for the synthesis of dopamine and that checking iron levels should be considered. In the study, the iron measurements were done by MRI and deemed to be less invasive, however, checking blood levels of ferritin (a protein found inside cells that store iron) is also a good option. Be aware that too much dopamine has been associated with anxiety, therefore it is always good to test for COMT gene mutations as the COMT enzyme is responsible for the removal of excess dopamine.
Another study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that 84% of kids with ADHD had significantly lower levels of iron compared to only 18% of control group children. Lower levels of ferritin were associated with worse ADHD symptoms. Iron is not something you want to add to your supplement regime without consulting your healthcare practitioner as excess iron can block the absorption of zinc, copper, and manganese. Getting iron through food is a safer option. Grass fed beef can be a good source of protein, but if you add a piece of cheese on top, the dairy can interfere with iron absorption. Vegans or vegetarians may want to consider spirulina and other non-animal sources of protein.
Magnesium can also impact ADHD symptoms. A magnesium deficiency can cause irritability, mental confusion and a decreased attention span. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, some experts state that children with ADHD may actually have a mild magnesium deficiency. One study included 75 magnesium deficient children who were diagnosed with ADHD. Those given magnesium supplements showed improvement in their behavior compared to those who did not receive magnesium. A study out of Poland found a magnesium deficiency in 95% of the ADHD children they examined.
Zinc also plays a role in treating ADHD, a 2004 study found that supplementing with zinc was helpful in reducing hyperactivity, impulsivity and impaired socialization symptoms. Zinc sulfate is usually well tolerated. A 2009 meta-analysis discussed the role of zinc and its essential role in more than 100 enzymes. Also noted was that dopamine is one of the most important factors in the pathophysiology of ADHD and since melatonin helps to regulate dopamine and zinc is necessary to metabolize melatonin that zinc is an important factor in the treatment of ADHD.
It’s also important to note what may be causing a deficiency in zinc. Is your child a picky eater and not getting enough of the mineral? Or could your child have elevated lead levels that are causing their zinc levels to become depleted. It is important not only to supplement but to try and discover causation. Supplementing can help, but if your child’s a picky eater, it’s also good to introduce new foods that will help him/her to get more minerals into their diet.
Also, if the culprit is lead, then adding vitamin C and considering chelation would be called for. Children are exposed to chemicals, metals and other environmental factors that can alter their mineral levels. For instance, fluoride in water can increase lead absorption, so it’s important to detoxify if necessary. Methylation controls intra-cellular detoxification, therefore screening for MTHFR gene mutations is always recommended.
Working with a qualified healthcare practitioner is necessary and sometimes working with multiple practitioners is needed. I have found nutrition to be of great benefit to children with ADHD.