Medication and Treatment Reviews

Vitamins and Supplements

Commonly used to manage symptoms of ADHD and related conditions

What is it?

Vitamins — particularly zinc, iron, Vitamin C, Vitamin B, and magnesium — are critical to healthy brain function. Everyone should strive to eat a balanced diet and maintain healthy levels of these key nutrients, experts say. In some cases, however, eating well is not enough — particularly for people with ADHD, who may be naturally deficient in these critical nutrients. Supplements may be needed to make up for this deficiency, experts say, and improve attention and focus with minimal side effects.

How do vitamins and supplements work?

Zinc: Zinc is thought to help regulate the neurotransmitter dopamine — which occurs in insufficient levels in ADHD brains — and it may make methylphenidate more effective by improving the brain’s response to dopamine. Zinc levels have been found to be low in some children with ADHD, and studies have found that taking zinc supplements reduces hyperactivity and impulsivity. Foods high in zinc include beef, spinach, pumpkin seeds, and shrimp.

Iron: Some experts believe that low iron levels contribute to ADHD symptoms in some children. A small study found that children with ADHD had naturally lower ferritin levels, a protein needed to store iron in the blood. The same study found that the children showed symptom improvement after taking an iron supplement for 12 weeks. An important caveat, however: supplemental iron can be dangerous if too much is taken, so all patients should get their iron levels measured by a doctor before starting a supplement. Eating iron-rich foods — like red meat, dark chocolate, and leafy greens — can increase iron levels without the risk of toxicity.

Vitamin C: The brain uses Vitamin C — drawn out of the blood and cycled through the brain — to make neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine. Foods such as oranges, red peppers, and kale are high in Vitamin C, but it’s also possible to take a daily supplement if dietary changes aren’t enough. However, Vitamin C can interfere with the absorption of ADHD medication, so it should not be taken an hour before or after administering ADHD meds.

Vitamin B: Deficiencies in B vitamins — particularly B6 — can cause irritability and fatigue in children and adults with ADHD. Adequate B6 levels — achieved through dietary changes or a supplement — can increase alertness and decrease anxiety-like symptoms. Foods high in B6 include wild-caught tuna, bananas, spinach, and salmon.

Magnesium: Magnesium is also used to make the neurotransmitters involved in attention. “Adequate levels of magnesium have a calming effect on the brain,” says Richard Brown, M.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Magnesium can be found in supplements and in foods including dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and beans.

Who are vitamins and supplements for?

Most studies on vitamins and minerals have been done on children, but both kids and adults can take most supplements. However, supplements can become dangerous if taken in excess, so a doctor should always check your or your child’s levels of each vitamin before you start a supplement.

How much does it cost?

Vitamins and supplements vary in cost, depending on brand, dosage, and delivery method.

What studies have been done on vitamins and supplements?

Zinc: A 2004 study, published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, found that adding zinc to the diets of 44 children with ADHD improved their symptoms dramatically. Another study from that year found that children taking a zinc supplement showed improvement, when compared to others taking a placebo. A 2011 study, however, found mixed results for zinc, and cautioned against relying too much on zinc as an ADHD treatment.

Iron: A 2004 study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, found that 84 percent of children with ADHD had significantly lower-than-normal levels of iron, compared with just 18 percent of kids without ADHD. Another study, published in Pediatric Neurology, showed that symptoms improved when iron-deficient children with ADHD took an iron supplement.

Vitamin C: A 2006 study found that children taking a Vitamin C supplement experienced improved ADHD symptoms, particularly hyperactivity. However, the study also used flax oil — a source of Omega-3 fatty acids — so it’s difficult to tell which vitamin was responsible for the positive results. Other larger studies have shown Vitamin C to help significantly with iron absorption.

Vitamin B: One small study claimed to find that B6 supplements were more effective at treating ADHD symptoms in children than is Ritalin. However, the study used very high doses of Vitamin B6, which can be dangerous. Other studies have indicated moderately positive effects on hyperactivity in children, particularly when combined with magnesium.

Magnesium: A small 2016 study found that 72 percent of the children with ADHD had magnesium deficiencies, and that taking magnesium supplements for 8 weeks improved cognitive function in this group.

Where can I learn more?

The University of Maryland Medical Center outlines the pros and cons of several common supplements used to treat ADHD here: umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder.

Sources:

http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1110863015000555
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19209525
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16314082
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC400741/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20034331
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15583094
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16190793
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24321736
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18054688
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16846100
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14687872
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3037197/
https://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/3993.html
https://www.additudemag.com/slideshow/29/

10 reviews

  1. My son is 12 years old and we have been using Kid Calm by Natural Vitality. It has been amazing for him. We were able to eliminate other supplements and just use the Kid Calm. It has the omega 3 and all natural vitamins including magnesium. It is orange flavored and we add it to his orange juice in the morning. He has been using it now for about 3 months and we have seen a noticeable improvement in him and his teachers have all made comments on how much better he seems to be doing in school. We will continue to use this product.

  2. I have been using 2 supplements.

    However, they seem to be effective for those with a hyper active, anxiety and overstimulated type. This works like a charm for me, but we are all different of course. there are 2 supplements which focus on proper nerve conduction and parasympathetic (stress reduction) response.

    1. l tyrosine: An amino acid working as a precursor to the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. This helps to alleviate physical symptoms of stress and resulting in less mood swings (also works as an antioxidant, even though that’s kind of off topic).

    2. GABA (Gamma-Amino Butyric acid ): This targets the central nervous system more directly and has a profound effect on over stimulated brain function. Since this neurotransmitter functions as a nerve impulse inhibitor, it can help those with ADHD to stop unnecessary firing of the brain as I like to call it.

    Since everyone has a different ADHD type, it does not work the same for everyone, I am just sharing what works for me thus far. This, along with a good diet and exercise, seems to do the trick for me! I use the brand “NOW” and it is great on purity and potency. I use 500mg a day of each, but I think you can go up to 1000mg.

  3. Has anyone ever heard or read about any connection between Vitamin D and Sleep?

    I am a very poor sleeper, I sleep very lightly, and have a very poor quality sleep. I sleep to little/short time as well. I at times have so much thoughts in my head that I’m not sure if I’m up or dreaming at night in bed. So now that I got diagnosed this week I’m trying to put sleep and ADHD together which the Doctor said it “might” get better if my thoughts are treated.

    First, I only started taking meds yesterday so I know it is not the pill.
    The reason I’m asking about Vitamin D and vitamins in general, is because I have a worse problem sleeping for at least the past week and a half. Instead of officially waking up after five I’m fully awake before 4 AM. I try not to nap or sleep before 9:45 -10 PM even though I’m so tired after work. Because the reason would be obvious if I would sleep before bed time. So I was thinking what could of changed that keeps waking me up so early? Maybe its the cold weather? Even though I’m covered well but sleep to close to the window, etc..

    Then I came up with a thought and went right to Google. I put in vitamins and sleeping problems, and what came up was very interesting. I see there are a lot of different writings about people with a deficiency in vitamin D and sleepiness during the day. And also that many people claimed that if they took vitamin D at night before bed they couldn’t sleep well. And they explained that if the their is truth to it, it might be because Vitamin D comes from the Sun as well so it might be the reason why they are tired during the day if you don’t get enough sun. I’m not so clear with that.

    I’m checking on it because I recently went to the doctor for an annual checkup, and the only thing that needs improvement on my lab work is Vitamin D. The doc told me to take 1000 units of Vitamin D daily. So since he told me that about just a few weeks ago I started taking all my vitamins again. Multivitamins and omega-3 in the morning and Multivitamins and a vitamin D in the evening.

    1. I found what you wrote very interesting and I never thought of that with the Vitamin D and what time of day to take it at. I take mine in the morning. Like you said, you get it from sunlight, which most of us don’t get enough of. To me it would make sense to take it in the morning. It does make a difference in mood swings and the other thing in some people Vitamin D can cause headaches. I take a good antioxidant and a mineral also and started those long before I had an increase in my Vitamin D. After I started those I noticed after a few weeks that I was able to stay up later at night but still feel rested in the AM.

      My levels are acceptable but I still take 5,000mg a day and my doctor actually thought about doubling that during the winter months. Of course, at my expense and not as a prescription.

  4. My husband and I both tried Melatonin years ago. We both felt like we were hung over in the morning. Him a lot more then me. I think it’s one of the supplements that either works for you or not.

    I am huge believer in a good antioxidant and mineral and we both could tell a difference when we went on those. A natural path or chiropractor can help a lot with supplements.

    Here is a page that from a site I usually use for side effects. But they have good information on Melatonin and some savings information.
    http://www.pharmacydrugguide.com/Melatonin_Coupons

  5. I have never posted before. I have not seen any posts on this subject. But, I am so excited about what I’ve seen so far I thought maybe someone could benefit from this info. I have a 13-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son with ADHD. I was diagnosed with ADHD last year, which explained so much! My daughter has been on Concerta since 3rd grade and then Ritalin SR in 8th (doesn’t last her all day ). My son has been on Ritalin (severe ADHD) and Zoloft (for extreme anxiety) since 2nd grade. decided to try natural route this summer. Heard, read about Dr. Nieper’s research, then tried lithium orotate with the promise of increased concentration, memory and mood stabilization and because it is all natural, nontoxic in the OROTATE form (as opposed to the prescription form). Cannot believe the results!!! My daughter has been on it for a week, saw definite results by day 2 (no moodiness, or mood swings, able to follow through on chores/tasks, her demeanor is calm and can carry on a meaningful conversation, no spacy-ness) she has been off the Ritalin for the same week. I am taking it too and not having to take my Ritalin or antidepressant med and I actually FEEL good and am functional and my appetite/cravings are actually controlled. I am going to a naturopath doctor tomorrow to help me with my son’s dosing. Although I see the positive effects he is getting ,he gets sleepy and nauseated with it.

    1. Would love to hear if your kids are still taking the lithium orotate. I have heard that it does not cross the blood brain barrier. I have recently started taking it at night and I think it is helping me sleep better and feel calmer during the day (maybe it’s the placebo effect). What dose are your sons on? I did try my ADHD son on it before and I thought it might be causing him to break out in little bumps/acne all over his body so we stopped. Did you sons have this reaction? I certainly don’t want a case of acne at 49!

  6. I have heard that lithium as orotate DOES cross the blood-brain barrier.

    http://mysite.verizon.net/res003jh/lithium-orotate/

    I have been taking it for almost three weeks. It eliminates that feeling of being irritated and depressed in a minor way due to feeling overburdened.

    It is as if you know you can deal with your problems, yet there is no mania and no sense of being stimulated or tranquilized.

    I am in my late 50s and I have taken a lot of vitamins, am a personal trainer, with a degree in general science, and I have done some very effective work on my personality using a variety of techniques such as bio-energetics and primal type therapies.

    They helped immensely, but this is the single best supplement I have ever had. Choline, DMAE, aminos: they all help. Take them, but lithium’s effect is a keeper.

  7. I started taking lithium and also SAM-E before I was ever diagnosed with ADHD. It took the edge off my mood swings, especially the irritability and sensation that I was going to climb the walls… The SAM-E keeps me out of the basement emotionally and the lithium from flying through the roof!

    I prefer the orotate form. I tried lithium carbonate but it seemed to make me nervous. Both forms are supposed to be helpful.

    I’ve never experienced side effects from either supplement. Oh, and by the way, I have always been acne prone and have not broken out from the lithium. Swanson vitamins offers the best prices I’ve seen.

  8. I at one point wanted to try Synaptol for my 7-year-old son. I could not find anyone on message boards that said it worked for them either. We tried Focus factor for kids my son takes 3 in the morning he is a big seven almost eight now. My husband and I see a difference in him when he does not have it. He also takes Omega 3 (a pretty big dose) as well.

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