Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by hyperactivity, attention difficulty, and impulsiveness. Although estimates differ, ADHD is thought to affect around 5 percent of children in the United States.
ADHD increases the likelihood that a child will experience problems at school, and, later in life, they are more likely to develop substance addictions and have ongoing psychiatric problems.
Medications that minimize some of the symptoms of ADHD are available, but their side effects can be significant, and it is not clear that they make a substantial difference to long-term outcomes.
Diet and ADHD: What's the connection?
Over recent years, interest has developed around diet and its influence on ADHD. For instance, a study looking at the diets of adolescents concluded that "[a] Western-style diet may be associated with ADHD."
Similarly, the authors of a study looking at the potential benefits of the Mediterranean diet on ADHD wrote, "Our data support the notion that not only specific nutrients but also the whole diet should be considered in ADHD."
Another research team — who investigated the relationship between vitamins and ADHD in young adults — found that lower concentrations of B-2, B-6, and B-9 were associated with ADHD, and B-2 and B-6 were linked to the severity of the symptoms.
In general, studies into the relationship between micronutrients and ADHD have concentrated on manipulating one specific nutrient at a time. This is generally the best method for scientific inquiry: change just one variable and measure the outcome.
However, the authors of the current study argue that the body needs a range of micronutrients to function, many of which interact with each other. They believe that changing just one might not be the best course of action in this case.
For the recent study, Julia Rucklidge and her colleagues from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand used Daily Essential Nutrients (DENs), which contain 13 vitamins, 17 minerals, and four amino acids. Their study was the first fully blinded randomized, controlled trial of children with ADHD who were not taking medication.
In total, 93 children aged 7–12 were involved. Roughly half of them received DENs, and the others took a placebo for 10 weeks. The results were published earlier this month in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
Across the study's duration, the researchers collected data from doctors, parents, teachers, and the participants themselves. They measured ADHD symptoms, general functioning and impairment, levels of aggression, mood, and emotional regulation.
The impact of micronutrients
According to clinicians ratings, 47 percent of the participants taking the micronutrients improved "much" or "very much." This is compared with 28 percent in the placebo group. Nobody in the placebo group was identified as improving "very much," compared with 11 percent of those receiving DENs.
Also, 32 percent of the participants receiving micronutrients showed improvements in attention, compared with 9 percent in the placebo group. There were no differences measured in hyperactivity or impulsivity.
And, compared with the placebo, micronutrients were shown to improve participants' control over emotion, aggression, and general functioning, according to reports from doctors, parents, and teachers. The authors write about the improvements in mood:
"Twice as many of the children who entered the trial with severe mood dysregulation, and were randomized to micronutrients, showed a clinically significant improvement in emotional dysregulation compared with placebo (41 percent vs. 20 percent)."
They point out that the "direct benefit for core ADHD symptoms was modest, with mixed findings across raters." However, because the intervention had very few adverse reactions, is relatively cost-effective, and makes differences across a range of ADHD functions in just 10 weeks, it warrants further investigation.
This is not the first time that vitamin and mineral supplements have been found to positively influence ADHD. More studies are guaranteed to follow, and, although ADHD is a complex problem, this relatively simple intervention may hold real promise.