Could Vitamin Supplementation Benefit Kids With ADHD?

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Key Takeaways

• According to a new study, micronutrient supplements might benefit children with ADHD.

• Standard ADHD medications can have side effects including height suppression

• Many experts promote a holistic approach, where medication is used alongside therapy and educational support

A new study suggests that vitamin supplements might be beneficial for children with ADHD.

The study, published by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP), found that children with ADHD and emotional dysregulation who took a micronutrient formula over eight weeks were three times more likely to see emotional and behavioral benefits than those who were given a placebo.

In a press release, lead author and assistant professor at the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Oregon Health & Science University and Helfgott Research Institute, National University of Natural Medicine, Jeanette Johnstone, PhD, said, “Supplementing with all known vitamins and essential minerals, at doses between recommended daily allowance and upper tolerable limit, may improve mood and concentration in children with ADHD and emotional dysregulation."

What Is ADHD and What Medications Are Used?

ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is relatively common, affecting around 3% to 5% of children. While symptoms can change and evolve over time, it is a lifelong condition. Existing treatment usually involves the use of stimulants, often alongside therapy, but the most common medication won't work for everyone—and can come with side effects.

“The medication doesn’t always work for a small amount of the population,” says Sian Lewis-Evans of the non-profit group The ADHD Sisterhood. “Parents have reported concerns over changes in their child’s behavior and personality, and weight has to be monitored closely in children as they can suppress appetite.” 

In the study, researchers chose 135 medication-free children to take either micronutrient or placebo capsules for eight weeks. The average age of the children in the research was just under ten years old. However, all children in the study were between six and twelve years old, and recruited for ADHD and irritable mood symptoms. 

Leanne Maskell, ADHD Author, Coach and Consultant

Nutritional supplements are unlikely to be a feasible mass treatment for ADHD, as the condition is a significant risk factor for obesity... A healthy nutritional diet is crucially important for children with ADHD

— Leanne Maskell, ADHD Author, Coach and Consultant

Emotional and behavioral benefits were both noted. Meanwhile, those children who took the micronutrients also grew an average of 6mm more in height than the children taking a placebo. Height suppression can be an issue with first-line ADHD medication, among other side effects. As a result, there have been calls for non-pharmacological treatments, including vitamin supplementation.

Understanding the Research

Previous studies have explored the use of single nutrients, including, zinc and magnesium, but findings have been mixed. However, benefits have been found with micronutrient supplementation.

A previous study published in 2015 involved a smaller sample of children taking micronutrient supplements, and it was found that not only did ADHD symptoms reduce, but mood and overall function both improved too.

In comparison, a 2003 study explored the success of zinc sulfate as a treatment for ADHD. While it reduced hyperactive and impulsive symptoms, it wasn’t successful in reducing attention deficiency symptoms.

The micronutrient supplement used in the study came in capsule form, and the children took a total of nine to 12 capsules a day. They started with one capsule three times a day before eventually increasing to three capsules three times a day for the remainder of the study. However, for participants over the age of nine, there was also an option to increase to four capsules three times a day if there were no side effects nor sufficient improvement noted.

It’s relatively safe as a treatment too. Senior co-author of the study and Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry & Behavioural Health at Ohio State University L. Eugene Arnold, MD, explained that while no treatment will be completely effective for everybody with ADHD, “it’s encouraging that a good half of the children” responded to it. In contrast, around two-thirds of people with ADHD respond to the stimulant drug that’s usually given out to treat the condition first. However, it can have emotional, appetite, and growth side effects.

As there’s still relatively little research into the benefits of micronutrient supplementation, more research is planned. According to Dr. Johnstone, studies in the future will look at “the micronutrients’ mechanisms of action and subgroup responses to understand for whom and why this intervention works.”

Could Micronutrient Supplements Be An Alternative?

ADHD author, coach, and consultant Leanne Maskell says, “Nutritional supplements are unlikely to be a feasible mass treatment for ADHD, as the condition is a significant risk factor for obesity."

“A healthy nutritional diet is crucially important for children with ADHD, but they may self-regulate by seeking dopamine highs for sugar and processed foods, resulting in energy crashes driven by their neurologically impaired ability to self-regulate and heightened impulsivity.”

She explains that there’s unlikely to ever be a “magic pill that will solve everything overnight," and describes the biggest issue with the current treatments as being their inaccessibility to a lot of children due to high demand and long waiting lists. 

“The risk of leaving children with untreated ADHD can result in significantly heightened risks such as becoming addicted to illegal substances,” explains Maskell, who also outlines the importance of support from schools in making modifications to suit children with ADHD, and believes in a holistic approach to treating the condition. 

It’s something Lewis-Evans agrees with, saying that “ADHD medication is normally the first and only form of treatment provided, whilst it is widely acknowledged that a holistic approach is advised as best practice.” 

As for micronutrient supplements, she says that they “could be offered as a prescription in the same way as ADHD medication currently is,” with any necessary monitoring conducted as normal during regular appointments.

What This Means For You

ADHD is relatively common but can be difficult to manage, regardless of any treatment you might be receiving. If you or your child are struggling with ADHD, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johnstone JM, Hatsu I, Tost G, et al. Micronutrients for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in youths: A placebo-controlled randomized clinical trialJ Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2022;61(5):647-661. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2021.07.005

  2. ScienceDaily. Micronutrients (vitamins + minerals) show benefit for children with ADHD and emotional dysregulation.

  3. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. How common is ADHD?

  4. Rosi E, Grazioli S, Villa FM, et al. Use of non-pharmacological supplementations in children and adolescents with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A critical reviewNutrients. 2020;12(6):1573. doi:10.3390/nu12061573

  5. Gordon HA, Rucklidge JJ, Blampied NM, Johnstone JM. Clinically significant symptom reduction in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder treated with micronutrients: An open-label reversal design studyJ Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2015;25(10):783-798. doi:10.1089/cap.2015.0105

  6. Bilici M, Yıldırım F, Kandil S, et al. Double-blind, placebo-controlled study of zinc sulfate in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorderProg Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2004;28(1):181-190. doi:10.1016/j.pnpbp.2003.09.034