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.

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 handwringing 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.

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.

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.

ADHD Supplement: Zinc

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,

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.

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 haemoglobin and haematocrit — the level of iron in red blood cells. These readings are usually normal in children with ADHD

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 stomach-aches. 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.

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.

ADHD Supplement: Inositol

Inositol is found in very small amounts in many foods. In concentrated doses, it helps to counter agitation and anxiety.

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.

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.