Nutritional Treatments for ADHD

Detailed information on the role of nutritional supplements in the treatment of ADHD.

Detailed information on the role of nutritional supplements in the treatment of ADHD.

ADHD Nutritional Supplements

As previously mentioned, AD/HD is most likely caused by multiple factors, including nutritional issues. Children and adults with ADHD may have specific nutrient deficiencies that aggravate their condition.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential components of brain cell membranes, including those of neurotransmitter receptors. Omega-3 fatty acids also alter signal transduction and electrical activity in brain cells and control the synthesis of chemicals such as eicosanoids and cytokines, which may have a direct effect on mood and behavior. Evidence supporting the role of fatty acid imbalances in the pathology of ADD/ADHD:

  • Research consistently finds people with ADD/ADHD have lower levels of essential fatty acids than controls.
  • A large proportion of people with ADD/ADHD display essential fatty acid deficiency symptoms (e.g. excessive thirst, frequent urination, vision impairment, dry skin and hair, learning difficulties.)
  • There is evidence of an abnormality in essential fatty acid metabolism in a significant proportion of people with ADD/ADHD.
  • Research suggests that people with lower levels of essential fatty acids have higher levels of behavior, learning and health problems.

Several studies have examined the role of essential fatty acids in ADHD, with very encouraging results:

    • In one pilot study, children with ADHD were given flaxseed oil, which is rich in alpha-linolenic acid. In the body, alpha-linolenic acid is metabolized into EPA and DHA. At the end of the study, researchers found that the symptoms of children with ADHD who were given the flaxseed oil improved on all measures (Joshi K et al 2006).
    • Another study examined the effects of flaxseed oil and fish oil, which provide varying degrees of omega-3 fatty acids, on adults with ADHD. The patients were given supplements for 12 weeks. Their blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids were tracked throughout the 12 weeks. Researchers found that high-dose fish oil increased omega-3 acids in the blood relative to omega-6 acids. An imbalance between arachidonic acid and omega-3 fatty acids is considered a risk factor for ADHD (Young GS et al 2005).


  • Finally, one study compared 20 children with ADHD who were given a dietary supplement (that included omega-3 fatty acids) to children with ADHD who were given methylphenidate. The dietary supplement was a mix of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, probiotics, amino acids, and phytonutrients. Amazingly, the groups showed almost identical improvement on commonly accepted measures of ADHD (Harding KL et al 2003).

One study has also indicated that children with ADHD benefit from intake of a combination of essential fatty acids and vitamin E (Stevens L et al 2003).

Detailed information on the role of nutritional supplements in the treatment of ADHD.Magnesium and vitamin B6. Combining magnesium and vitamin B6 has shown promise for reducing symptoms of ADHD. Vitamin B6 has many functions in the body, including assisting in the synthesis of neurotransmitters and forming myelin, which protect nerves. Magnesium is also very important; it is involved in more than 300 metabolic reactions. At least three studies have demonstrated that the combination of magnesium and vitamin B6 improved behavior, decreased anxiety and aggression, and improved mobility among children with ADHD (Nogovitsina OR et al 2006a,b; Nogovitsina OR et al 2005; Mousain-Bosc M et al 2004).

Iron. Iron deficiency may be implicated in ADHD (Konofal E et al 2004), although supplementation studies have shown minimal or no effects (Millichap JG et al 2006). Because of the potential toxicity of iron supplements, parents should consult their children's pediatrician before beginning supplementation.

Zinc. Zinc is a cofactor for production of neurotransmitters, fatty acids, prostaglandins, and melatonin, and it indirectly affects metabolism of dopamine and fatty acids. However, the role of zinc in ADHD is still emerging. Numerous studies have shown that children with ADHD are often deficient in zinc. However, researchers have not determined that a zinc deficiency causes ADHD or that treatment with zinc can improve symptoms of ADHD (Arnold LE et al 2005a,b).

Acetyl-L-carnitine. This superior form of L-carnitine, which is responsible for transporting fatty acids into the mitochondria, has been associated with a host of positive health benefits, including reducing impulsivity. In an animal model of ADHD, acetyl-L-carnitine was shown to reduce the impulsivity index (Adriani W et al 2004).

Source: Neuroscience, Inc.

next: Hormones and Herbs for Treating ADHD

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, October 7). Nutritional Treatments for ADHD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 27 from

Last Updated: July 11, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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