Vitamins & Minerals

10 ADHD Supplements and Vitamins for Symptom Control

Some ADHD supplements — vitamins, minerals, and herbs — can augment ADD medication to help relieve symptoms like inattention, memory, mood, and cognitive function. Find out which ones help the most here.

Natural ADHD Supplements: The Best Vitamins and Minerals
Yellow supplement caplets in the shape of a fish

What ADHD Supplements Improve Symptoms?

Research shows that medication does a good job of managing ADHD symptoms in many children and adults. Still, the thought of starting your eight-year-old son or daughter on a drug, no matter how effective it might be, causes lots of hand-wringing and soul-searching in parents before they agree to do it. There are potential side effects to be considered, along with the fact that ADHD medications don’t work the same way for every child in managing symptoms. So some parents look for other natural remedies for ADHD, such as nutrition, exercise, and supplements, to help their child deal with symptoms.

It is important to understand what a supplement is. A nutritional supplement provides basic nutrients for optimal health and function that you may not be getting from your food. Supplements include vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats. I don’t include herbal or botanical ingredients, such as ginkgo or St. John’s wort, in the supplement category. Botanicals are plant-based products that are not necessarily nutrients, but which may have positive effects on health and function.

Now let’s look at the individual ADHD supplements I recommend. Every natural remedy for ADHD mentioned here has some research to support its effectiveness in improving some symptoms.

If possible, I’d consult a physician to help you incorporate supplements into your treatment plan. Managing supplements and other integrative treatments requires expertise. It is difficult for a family to do this on their own.

ADHD Supplement: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Usually given in the form of fish oil, omega-3s are probably the best-researched supplement for ADHD. Numerous studies, including two meta-analyses, have found benefit in the area of hyperactivity, attention, or impulsivity.

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Finding the best omega 3 supplement is a different story. Despite all the studies on omega-3s, questions remain about the optimal dose and how to give it. The important omega-3 fatty acids are EPA and DHA, which are listed on most product labels. I recommend a total of 1,000 mg. of EPA plus DHA (add the two together) for smaller children, 2,000 mg. for adolescents, and 1,500 mg. for those in between. There should be 1.5 to 2 times as much EPA as DHA. Most omega-3 gummies don’t provide these higher levels, so your best option is to give your child capsules or a liquid. For children who are vegetarian, algae oil is available, but it requires large doses to get enough EPA and DHA.

A related supplement is phosphatidylserine. This is a type of molecule derived from fatty acids that plays an important role in cell signaling. A couple of small studies indicate it might be helpful for ADHD. My clinical experience is that the benefits have not been impressive. It can be taken on its own or in conjunction with a fish oil supplement.

ADHD Supplement: Zinc

I recommend zinc for children with ADHD. The mineral is not as well researched as omega-3s and iron, but there is some positive research. One study showed that taking zinc with a psychostimulant caused a nearly 40 percent reduction in the amount of the stimulant required to function at optimal levels. Other studies have shown benefits for ADHD symptoms in general. Zinc levels can be measured in the blood, but it is safe to give 20-25 mg. of zinc daily to your child without first doing a blood test.

ADHD Supplement: Vitamin D

Many American children have abnormally low levels of vitamin D. Newer research shows that children with ADHD have lower vitamin D levels than children without the condition. One study showed that expectant mothers with low vitamin D levels had a higher likelihood of their children having ADHD. There are no studies showing that giving vitamin D to children with ADHD improves their symptoms. Nevertheless, I would check vitamin D levels and supplement if the levels are low or even borderline low.

[Free Resource Here: Guide to Natural ADHD Treatment Options]

ADHD Supplement: Iron

Low levels of the mineral iron can be a significant problem in children with ADHD. Studies have shown that iron is crucial for normal brain function, and that treating with supplemental iron can improve ADHD symptoms.

Before giving an iron supplement to your child, it is important to measure the iron levels in your child’s blood. When doctors measure these in children, they test for hemoglobin and hematocrit — the level of iron in red blood cells. These readings are usually normal in children with ADHD. I recommend that doctors also check the ferritin level, which measures circulating iron. This is often low, or borderline low, in kids with ADHD. One study showed that the average ferritin level in ADHD children was 22 compared with 44 in non-ADHD children.

I recommend supplementing with iron if a child has a ferritin level under 30. It is important to use a chelated iron product, which reduces the problem of constipation or stomachaches. I usually begin with 30-40 mg. of elemental iron a day, and measure ferritin levels again in three to six months.

Multivitamin/Multimineral for ADHD

It is important that children with ADHD have adequate amounts of a wide range of vitamins and minerals, but until recently, there has been little research suggesting that taking a multivitamin/multimineral was helpful for ADHD. Research indicates that a specific multivitamin/multimineral combination is effective for kids who have ADHD and emotional dysregulation, often displayed by oppositional children.

Daily Essential Nutrients is made by Hardy Nutritionals. In one study, the micronutrients in this formulation reduced impairment and improved inattention, emotional regulation, and aggression. DEN did not improve hyperactive/impulsive symptoms. The downside is that it is expensive, and a child has to take six pills a day. It’s possible that other multivitamins have similar effects, but they have not been well-studied.

ADHD Supplement: Magnesium

This mineral won’t directly improve attention, but it can calm hyperactivity and agitation, which compromise attention. I find magnesium helpful for children who have a “rebound effect” after their stimulant medication wears off. A child can safely take 100-300 mg. of elemental magnesium twice daily in the form of magnesium glycinate, citrate, or chelate. The citrate form tends to lead to loose stools.

ADHD Supplement: Inositol

Inositol is found in very small amounts in many foods. In concentrated doses, it helps to counter agitation and anxiety. I recommend 12-18 grams a day divided into two or three doses for adults. The dose for kids would be calculated based on their mass.

ADHD Supplement: Ginkgo Biloba

This herb has been used to improve cognitive function for thousands of years. A couple of small studies have shown that it may be helpful in children with ADHD. A recent double-blind randomized study looked at adding ginkgo to a stimulant that children were already taking. Some children took ginkgo plus a stimulant, while others took a placebo and a stimulant. Those who took the ginkgo had a 35 percent better response rate in terms of improving attention. It had no effect on hyperactivity or impulsivity. I use 60 mg., twice a day, for children.

Other Herbs for ADHD

Bacopa and gotu kola, which are part of Ayurvedic medicine (the traditional medicine of India), have both been used to treat ADHD, but western medicine has done little research on them.

One herb, St. John’s wort, is often recommended for children with ADHD, but research shows that it helps with mood disorders, not ADHD.

The ABCs of ADHD Supplements

Among the many questions parents ask me when thinking about natural supplements for ADHD are: How can supplements help? Are they a substitute for ADHD medication, or can they be used together? How long do they take to work? Can they have side effects?

  1. How do supplements improve attention, impulsivity, or hyperactivity? It is helpful to understand how supplements are researched. The most common method is to give either the supplement being studied or a placebo to a person, and see if ADHD symptoms improve. Researchers measure this by looking at ADHD surveys or checklists, filled out by teachers and parents. In most cases, the research shows improvements in attention and focus, hyperactivity, or impulsivity, or all of them. It is hard to predict the effect any single supplement will have on a child.
  2. Will supplements improve symptoms as much as ADHD medication? For the most part, no. ADHD-friendly supplements are helpful, but they do not have the immediate and powerful effect on ADHD symptoms that medication does. It is hard to quantify the effectiveness of these supplements compared to medication. It is worth noting that supplements in general have far fewer side effects than medication, and less potential for severe side effects. I use supplements as part of an integrative treatment plan that includes interventions related to school, parenting, sleep, and exercise.
  3. How long will it take to see results after starting a supplement? This varies, depending on the supplement and the child. Some families have told me that they saw improvement within days of starting fish oil; other families didn’t see any improvement after a month. I recommend waiting a few months before deciding whether or not supplements are helpful.
  4. Do supplements have side effects? Some supplements have side effects, but they are milder and less common than the side effects of ADHD stimulants. Iron, for instance, may cause constipation or abdominal pain. It is important to notice any symptoms that occur after starting one or more supplements and consult with your physician.

[Get Free Guide to the Best Vitamins and Supplements for Managing ADHD Symptoms]

Sandy Newmark, M.D., is a member of the ADDitude ADHD Medical Review Panel.

11 Comments & Reviews

  1. Great article!

    My journey to finally finding treatments that work for me — began with supplements. There’s a lot of bad advice out there but luckily these days there are some excellent evidence-based resources; and lab are crucial!

  2. “There should be 1.5 to 2 times as much EPA as DHA.”
    Could you please clarify… are you saying that EPA should be double the DHA proportion in the omega3 tablet?
    We were able to find omega3 tablets kids for our 5yr child which focus on the DHA level, not the EPA (each 597.6mg tablet = DHA 300mg & 60mg EPA) – we have been giving 2 x tablets in the morning.
    Should I be looking for a different omega3 tablet for our child to assist with ADHD symptoms?

  3. CCM, the standard dosage of EPA or DHA is around 200 to 300mg. I as a 37 year old male adult weighing 230 pounds regularly take 800 to 1000mg of both EPA and DHA each, I most commonly use Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega 2x which has 1125mg EPA and 875mg DHA per dose.

    Based on what I believe this article is suggesting 1.5 to 2 times the normal dosage would be 500mg or slightly more. There are no negative effects that I am aware of when it comes to taking a slightly higher dosage of EPA and/or DHA so long as you are not taking blood thinners.

  4. It sounds like many of these could be fixed by bringing meat, butter, and eggs back into the diet. It has been shemped for so many years by so-called “nutritionists” that many of these are missing from the standard American diet (SAD).

  5. We had some pretty bad experience with drugs and so our pediatrician encouraged us with a more natural approach I actually followed Medical Medium recommendation and started with a metal cleanser diet and fallowed as well one that was proposed for Alzheimer’s patients that showed quick result… Most of the supplements in this list were on it but one more has shown great help, GABA… favoring each supplement from a vegan source, no fish or animal sources…My son being 13 now is going through lots of changes and with the Pandemic situation, I decided to homeschool…That is giving him quite a lot of support as his social skills that have been the most taxing on him even though he was in a special learning school and was getting out of hand being hypersensitive… My son had to go through two operations for his hearing and I practiced tapping with him to overcome the trauma…Having to hear so many specialists repeatedly reminding him his condition did not help as to rewire him to believe it is not an end but an obstacle to overcome… I’m trying now to invite him to learn breathing and meditation with a very septic look on his part I have to be creative lol FIRE breathing and tapping is all I can get him to do so far but only the result will convince him so I’m being patient and very hopeful…Being at home I have discovered an amazing intelligent boy with passion and interest in the Astronomy field and blew my mind with all he knows…USING this to prove him and himself all his capabilities 😉 The Journey continues…I love this site and since ex-partner is also ADD I use your article to help me help him and his son…By the way, I have also a 26 yrs old with ADD as well…Thank you so much for these amazing article that as support me prove I was many time right to the septic around me including therapists in the field(?)…

  6. “There are no studies showing that giving vitamin D to children with ADHD improves their symptoms. ”

    Since depression is present with ADHD folks — I feel anxious when I can’t concentrate/contribute/be productive.
    Small Swedish Study in 2012:
    “…there was a significant improvement in eight of the nine items in the vitamin D deficiency scale: depressed feeling, irritability, tiredness, mood swings, sleep difficulties, weakness, ability to concentrate and pain. There was a significant amelioration of depression according to the MFQ-S (p < 0.05).”

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