Health Benefits of Natural Supplements for ADHD

There is a lot of interest in using natural supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, herbal preparations, and vitamin and mineral supplements to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—but do they really work?

This research is inconclusive at best for most of these supplements, but there is evidence that they may help people with ADHD who are nutritionally deficient.

This article will discuss nutritional supplements for ADHD, including what works, what doesn’t, and what we’re still learning.

Stimulant medication is the most supported treatment for ADHD. More than 70% of children with ADHD respond to psychostimulant drugs.

Nonetheless, there is still interest in the use of supplements as a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatment for ADHD. These are treatments that replace or complement traditional treatments.

Current research

Current research does not support the use of supplements as a stand-alone alternative to ADHD medication and/or behavioral therapy. But some supplements may help people with vitamin or mineral deficiencies.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that you must get from your diet because your body does not produce them. Dietary sources include fatty fish like salmon and tuna, seeds like flax and chia seeds, and nuts like walnuts.

health benefits

Research on the efficacy of omega-3 supplements for ADHD is inconclusive.

A 2018 systematic review (by collecting and summarizing evidence to answer research questions) and meta-analysis (by summarizing findings using statistical methods) of eight studies involving 628 participants showed that children and adolescents with ADHD tend to be deficient in omega- 3 fatty acids. Reviews show that omega-3 supplementation improves clinical symptoms and cognitive performance in children and adolescents with ADHD.

A 2017 systematic review of 25 randomized controlled trials (trials in which participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups) showed inconclusive results. It found that about half of the studies reported some beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids on ADHD symptoms, but the other half reported negative results.

Many other studies and reviews have been conducted on the use of omega-3s to treat ADHD, but the differences in the studies make them difficult to compare. The results of these studies vary.

Overall, it’s not clear whether omega-3 supplementation will help with ADHD symptoms, but it may be worth investigating if the person has a deficiency. Omega-3 supplements are known to be less effective than stimulant drugs.

possible side effects

Side effects from omega-3 supplements tend to be mild. They may include:

  • unpleasant taste
  • bad breath
  • unpleasant sweat
  • headache
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms such as heartburn, nausea, and diarrhea

Omega-3 supplements may interact with medications that affect blood clotting.

People with seafood allergies should take omega-3s with caution, as it is not yet known whether it is safe for them to take fish oil supplements.

Dosage and Preparation

According to some preliminary research, fish oil supplements may be more beneficial than fish oil supplements Docosahexaenoic acid acid (DHA).

Current evidence suggests that supplemental doses of 1-2 grams per day of omega-3, which contain large amounts of Eicosapentaenoic acid Acids (EPA) in omega-3 formulas.

Consult your healthcare professional before taking or giving omega-3 supplements to your child, especially if you have a blood clotting disorder or seafood allergy.

iron supplements

Iron is used by the body to make hemoglobin in red blood cells. Hemoglobin transports oxygen to nourish your tissues. Dietary sources include meat (especially red meat), tuna, and dark leafy green vegetables.

health benefits

A 2014 study found an association between iron deficiency and ADHD symptoms in children. The study did not conclude that iron deficiency causes ADHD, but suggests that it may contribute to ADHD symptoms related to genetics, environmental risk factors, iron deficiency and diet.

A 2013 study showed that iron deficiency increases the risk of mental illness, including ADHD.

A 2012 meta-analysis found that people with ADHD tended to have lower iron levels than participants without ADHD. Given these results, people with ADHD may want to be tested for iron deficiency.

Get advice before starting iron supplementation

Do not start taking iron supplements without first consulting your healthcare professional to see if it is necessary and safe. If a person is not deficient in iron, too much iron can cause serious problems.

possible side effects

Too much iron can be dangerous and even fatal, especially in children.

Side effects of iron supplements may include:

  • upset stomach
  • constipate
  • nausea
  • stomach ache
  • Vomit
  • syncope

High doses of iron might decrease zinc absorption. Iron supplements can also interact with other medications and supplements. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist about possible interactions.

Dosage and Preparation

The dose of iron supplements depends on age, sex, the degree of deficiency in the person, and other considerations.

The maximum daily amount of iron from all sources, including food and supplements, is:

  • Birth to 13 years: 40 mg
  • 14 years and older: 45 mg

vitamins and minerals

Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients you need from your diet for your body to function properly. Vitamins are produced by plants or animals, while minerals come from soil and water and are then absorbed into the plants and animals we eat.

health benefits

Vitamins have not been conclusively shown to directly affect ADHD, but they can correct deficiencies that may be associated with ADHD symptoms.

A small study of 20 participants found that children with ADHD were deficient in magnesium, zinc and copper. Studies have found that magnesium and zinc deficiencies are associated with hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. No such correlation was found with copper deficiency.

A 2018 study suggests that low levels of certain vitamins may contribute to ADHD symptoms. Examining deficits in people with ADHD may be beneficial, the researchers suggest.

possible side effects

Two common supplements for ADHD are magnesium and zinc.

Side effects of magnesium supplements include:

  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • abdominal cramps

Very high doses of magnesium can cause magnesium poisoning, which is serious and potentially fatal.

Too much zinc can cause side effects such as:

  • nausea
  • Vomit
  • loss of appetite
  • stomach cramps
  • diarrhea
  • headache

Both magnesium and zinc can interact with other medications and supplements. Consult your healthcare professional and pharmacist before use.

Dosage and Preparation

How much magnesium, zinc, or other vitamin and mineral supplements to take varies from person to person.

Talk to your healthcare provider to determine if you or your child need vitamin or mineral supplements, and what doses to take.

melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone mainly secreted by the pineal gland (located deep in the brain). It regulates your sleep-wake cycle.

health benefits

People with ADHD often experience sleep problems.

Medications used to treat ADHD can also affect sleep.

Melatonin in children and adults with primary sleep disorders has been shown to:

  • Reduced sleep latency (how long it takes to fall asleep)
  • Increase total sleep time
  • Improve sleep quality

Although melatonin has not been shown to directly improve ADHD symptoms, it can help people with ADHD sleep better.

possible side effects

Melatonin is considered safe for short-term use, but no studies have established safety for long-term use. No significant side effects have been reported with melatonin use in children.

Side effects of melatonin are uncommon, but may include:

  • drowsiness
  • headache
  • Dizziness
  • nausea

Dosage and Preparation

Typically, 3-6 mg (depending on the child’s weight) of melatonin is taken about half an hour before bedtime.

Supplements that have not been proven safe or effective

There is insufficient evidence for the safety and efficacy of these supplements to support their use in ADHD:

  • Pycnogenol (French Maritime Pine Bark Extract)
  • ginkgo
  • St. John’s Wort

what to look for

So many CAM treatments have been proposed for ADHD that it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction.

The Organization for Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) provides some recommendations for reviewing these options.

Ask yourself:

  • Have clinical trials been conducted to show that this treatment works?
  • Is information about this treatment available from a trusted source?
  • Is there a respected national organization that implements this therapy?
  • Do people who perform therapy need a state license?
  • Does my health insurance cover this treatment? (Insurers usually don’t cover unproven treatments)

CHADD recommends looking for red flags that suggest treatment is suspicious and should be avoided, including if:

  • They claim this treatment works for everyone with ADHD, although no single treatment works for everyone.
  • There is a lack of credible studies and studies, only anecdotal evidence (from stories people tell).
  • Instructions for proper use were not provided or the contents were not listed on the medication container
  • There is no information on side effects.
  • They claim the product is natural, but don’t acknowledge that “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean safe.
  • There are bold claims such as the cure being a “secret recipe”, “amazing”, “miracle”, “amazing breakthrough” or “cure”.
  • You can learn about it through infomercials or books the author is trying to sell.
  • “Medications” come from mail order, not through a health care professional.
  • They claim doctors are talking about treatment unfairly or won’t tell the public.

generalize

Stimulant medication is the most evidence-supported treatment for ADHD, but other treatments are sometimes recommended. While dietary supplements by themselves may not help relieve ADHD symptoms, they can help manage the deficiencies that affect ADHD symptoms.

Talk to your healthcare professional before starting any treatment for ADHD. It is important to determine if you or your child have any deficiencies before treatment with supplements.

VigorTip words

Living with ADHD can be challenging, so finding ways to address its symptoms is only natural. Note, however, that supplements are not without risks of side effects, toxic overload, or interactions with other medications. Just because a product is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s safe. Be sure to discuss any supplements with your healthcare professional before taking them.