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What nutrient deficiency causes ADHD?


Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by the core symptoms hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. Most doctors agree that proper nutrition is essential in treating ADHD. Along with healthy eating, some vitamins and minerals improve ADHD symptoms.

Vitamin B1 and ADHD

Vitamin B1 or Thiamine is included in the most important nutrients for the brain. It also happens to be included in a group of vitamins and minerals that children with developmental issues like autism and ADHD are most commonly deficient.

Vitamin B1, or thiamin, helps prevent complications in the nervous system, brain, muscles, heart, stomach, and intestines. It is also involved in the flow of electrolytes into and out of muscle and nerve cells.

Vitamin B1 is important to the central nervous system because it aids in the synthesis of acetylcholine. Acetylcholine functions as an activator and inhibitor in the central nervous system. This neurotransmitter also plays a part in the sensation of pain, learning, regulation of the endocrine system and sleep cycles.

An irritable mood is noted to be one of the first symptoms of thiamine deficiency. It may occur within days or weeks of deficiency.

To help give your central nervous system a boost, a healthy dose of foods rich in Vitamin B1 could significantly help!

Potassium and ADHD

Now, a group of Harvard-associated doctors treat the ADHD with a simple medication – potassium supplements.

Many people experience “sensory overstimulation,” where they feel like you are bombarded by sensory input, such as sights and sounds. This can be more common in disorders such as ADHD, and autism.

A woman who experienced this sensory overstimulation found that it subsided about 20 minutes after taking a potassium supplement. A neurologist found that her symptoms were the same as in “hypokalemic periodic paralysis,” where ion channels in the muscles become overactive when potassium levels are low. Her son, who was having attention problems in school, also found the same triggers and got the same benefit from taking potassium.

Potassium is the third most abundant mineral in the body. It helps the body regulate fluid, send nerve signals and regulate muscle contractions.

The nervous system relays messages between your brain and body with the help of potassium. These messages are delivered in the form of nerve impulses and help regulate your muscle contractions, heartbeat, reflexes and many other body functions. Potassium deficiency has been linked to mood changes and mental fatigue. Getting enough potassium from your diet can help you maintain healthy nerve function.

Magnesium and ADHD

A positive influence of magnesium in the prevention and treatment of hyperactivity in children is more and more frequently raised in the literature.

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In one study were examined 116 children (94 boys and 20 girls), aged 9-12 years, with recognized ADHD. Magnesium deficiency was found in 95 per cent of those examined. The conclusion from the investigations is that magnesium deficiency in children with ADHD occurs more frequently than in healthy children.

The mineral magnesium is necessary for sufficient brain energy and aids smooth transmission of communications through the central nervous system, calms the central nervous system and is an important component in the making of serotonin.

Magnesium deficiency is typified by a number of reductions in cognitive ability and processes, and in particular a reduced attention span along with increased instances of aggression, fatigue and lack of concentration

Given the nature of these symptoms and the significant amount of overlap that they share with ADHD, this led many experts involved in the treatment and care of ADHD to hypothesize that children who suffer from ADHD also have magnesium deficiency as well.

Another study found that 58% of participants with ADHD had low serum magnesium levels. All of the children were given preparations of magnesium plus vitamin B6 100 mg/day for a period of 1 to 6 months. In all of the children, physical aggression, instability, attention at school, muscle rigidity, spasms, and twitching improved.

A later study also replicated similar results, as researchers found that a magnesium-vitamin B6 regimen for at least 2 months significantly improved hyperactivity, aggressiveness, and attention at school. Magnesium treatment increased attention, work productivity and task performance.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids and ADHD

Lately, there has been an increasing amount of evidence surfacing that omega-3 can improve numerous medical and psychiatric conditions like ADHD.

Researchers at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience have found that fish oil supplements, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) improve inattention, hyperactivity and behavioural and cognitive symptoms in children and young adults with ADHD.

Other studies by Sonuga-Barke et al in 2013 and by Stevenson et al in 2014, where have shown that omega-3 supplements may help reduce impulsivity, hyperactivity and inattention.

There are many benefits to taking an omega-3 supplement. Improvement of ADHD symptoms such as improved attention, ability to focus and memory. May contribute to a reduction in the symptoms of coexisting ADHD conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.

Sugar and ADHD

ADHD symptoms may indeed be triggered by sugar in some people.

In a 2019 review of studies Trusted Source, researchers went over the literature on the relationship between dietary patterns and ADHD. Results of the analysis showed that “unhealthy” dietary patterns, like a high intake of refined sugar or saturated fat, may increase the risk of ADHD.

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Another recent review of studies Trusted Source looked at the link between sugar and soft drink consumption and ADHD symptoms. According to the results, increased consumption of sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages caused an increase in ADHD symptoms.

ADHD: the nutrient connection in adults and children

Mom and Daughter with healthy vegetables

ADHD includes a combination of persistent symptoms, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviour. The cause is considered multi-factorial, involving genetic predisposition, perinatal health, environment, and socioeconomic factors. Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, is a chronic condition that affects millions of children and adults. Children with ADHD may struggle with low self-esteem, troubled relationships, and poor performance in school. While these issues may lessen with age, some will never completely outgrow their symptoms. People of all ages living with ADHD may benefit from nutritional strategies. Beyond removing junk foods and chemicals from the diet to encourage better gut health, a good multivitamin may lead the way to a healthier microbiome and healthier signals to the brain. When we consider the nutrients typically contained in high-quality multivitamins, it seems that daily supplements have the potential to mitigate ADHD symptoms and support overall health, with minimal risk. Children with ADHD may require targeted nutrients at therapeutic dose ranges, and doctor testing is recommended. But, initially, a multivitamin/mineral product is an easy place to start, and a basic treatment guideline for the condition. In the first fully blinded, randomized, controlled trial of medication-free children with ADHD, 93 patients, ages 7 to 12, were randomized to receive either micronutrients or placebo for 10 weeks. Children on the multivitamin displayed reduced aggression, improved attention, and improved emotional regulation. However, no improvements in hyperactive/impulsive symptoms were demonstrated. While many of the nutrients in a multivitamin product may enhance health, some nutrients, in particular, have demonstrated their relevance in the treatment of ADHD and related conditions.

Vitamin D3

Fat-soluble Vitamin D exerts anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, neuroprotective, and neurotrophic effects – actions that may directly oppose the pathogenesis of ADHD. This key nutrient has also been shown to facilitate serotonergic and dopaminergic functions, making it a further consideration in paediatric and adult neurology.


Magnesium is involved in more than 300 essential metabolic reactions in the body, from energy production to DNA synthesis. While it is often noted for its cardiovascular health, musculoskeletal health, and metabolic function, magnesium also facilitates central nervous system communication (CNS) and calming. The manifestations of magnesium deficiency include reduced attention span, irritability, fatigue, lack of concentration, nervousness, and increased aggression many of the same symptoms observed in those with ADHD. It no surprise, then, that magnesium has been shown to be of particular benefit to hyperactive children. Children with ADHD are more likely to be magnesium deficient. In one study, magnesium deficiency was observed in 95% of children with ADHD, and other trials have demonstrated the value of magnesium in alleviating ADHD-related hyperactivity. In another trial, 72% of children with ADHD (18 out of 25) were found to be magnesium deficient; a significant correlation between hair magnesium levels and total IQ was further revealed. Supplementation with 200 mg of magnesium daily (in addition to standard medical treatment) for 8 weeks in these children improved their symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity by 77.7% and 88.9%, respectively.

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While severe iodine deficiency and related cretinism have been nearly eliminated across the globe, the rate of iodine deficiency has been on the rise in the Americas. This is likely due to our decreasing intake of iodized salt and low intake of sea vegetables. A 2016 study of 89 children with ADHD found 71.9% to be iodine deficient, and further revealed a significant association between urinary iodine levels and hyperactivity. Iodine deficiency has been implicated in impaired cognitive function during childhood and adolescence. Iodine’s role in neurodevelopment during pregnancy and the first 1,000 days of life is essential. Iodine deficiency, and the hypothyroidism it can cause, are both prenatal and postnatal risk factors for ADHD.


The B-vitamins are essential cofactors for countless reactions in the body. Vitamins B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate), and B12 (cobalamin) are key players in the neurotransmitter production that is essential for brain health and neurological function. B-vitamin deficiency can manifest as fatigue, difficulty learning/focusing, and mood disturbances, many of the same symptoms found in ADHD.

Essential fatty acids

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are required for normal neurodevelopment and neuronal function. Omega-3 fatty acids modulate inflammation and directly impact neuronal membrane fluidity and receptor function. Low Omega-3 levels have been causally related to ADHD dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder, and other CNS-linked disorders, including poor cognition, depression, anxiety, and limited anger control.


A short-term pilot study in children and teens, 6-17 years old, with ADHD has shown saffron to be as effective at controlling symptoms as methylphenidate, the prescription drug Ritalin. Researchers compared the effects of Crocus sativus L. to methylphenidate in 54 patients over a 6-week period and showed no significant difference in effectiveness as well as similar frequency of adverse effects when compared to Ritalin. The study also noted that saffron has anti-depressant and memory-enhancing properties. Removing junk foods, healing the gut, and adding good nutrition via food and supplementation can assist in reducing the symptoms of ADHD. Parents and patients concerned with the symptoms or effects of ADHD should speak to their trusted healthcare provider for patient-specific advice.

Bruce Polack is passionate about natural health, and has been involved in the field, for over 20 years. He is the Natural Health Manager of the West Vancouver Pure Integrative Pharmacy on Marine Drive. He is also Pure’s Corporate Trainer.

Vitamins & Minerals

As with everyone else in society, it is important for those with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder to maintain a good balanced diet. It has however been proven that those with ADHD and other Autistic Spectrum Conditions suffer from specific conditions which themselves can cause vitamin or mineral deficiencies. They have also discovered that the stomach and intestines, like our brains, have grey matter. This in turn may affect the way in which the human body varies in how it deals with food. Given that ADHD and ASD are well known to be a different way of the human brain to develop and finally operate it is not surprising that this impact affects how the rest of the body also operates.

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We will share the main issues highlighted which affect a significant proportion of those with these conditions, however parents with children that have ADHD need to know that their child can become deficient in any vitamin and mineral. The NHS views deficiency based on extreme variations of the human body however individually we all have different levels of requirements and usage, therefore symptoms of deficiency are the best guage as to whether someone is deficient or not rather than a government approved level of the most extreme variations in human beings.

Eating at regular times, and holding a steady routine is also very important. This is true with regard to health and weight for the whole of the human race, however ADHD and other Autistic Spectrum Conditions prefer or require routine. Check out about this and other aspects in our section that explains what ADHD is and how it affects individuals. That said often the most significant issue is that prolonged gaps between eating does cause issues unrelated to routines and/or changes in environment. This is currently put down to the body requiring vitamins and minerals which may be in short supply around the body, and accompanies exhaustion. After all it is easy to understand why, especially when you consider how much activity the ADHD individual is involved in.

There is growing evidence that individuals with ADHD have a high metabolism and due to the complexity of vitamins and minerals ADHD’ers are unable to absorb them as most people do. Although many show signs of deficiencies they are normally not low enough to register as a deficiency with the NHS.

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Currently the condition Pyroluria Syndrome is known to affect 30-50% of those diagnosed with ADHD. This causes deficiencies in Zinc and Vitamin B6. This said, a significant number of those with ADHD who do not have Pyroluria Syndrome can still be found to be deficient in Zinc and/or Vitamin B6. As such we would recommend that everyone diagnosed with ADHD should consider having a test for Pyroluria Syndrome and for deficiencies in the full range of vitamins and minerals (especially Zinc and B6). These tests can be obtained from your GP, or privately. If your GP is unwilling to assist and you would like to obtain such tests privately please let us know at we may be able to organise discounts (e.g. up to 75% off) from advertised prices of private clinics. This site provides details of these conditions and their symptoms.

The most common vitamins ADHDers show signs of deficiency are Zinc & B6 however many also show signs for calcium, chromium, copper, essential fatty acids, magnesium, iron and selenium.

One example of a vitamin deficiency which is often not diagnosed is B12 which is considered by the manufacturers and world heath authority as being deficient at 1,500 pg/mL or less; however the NHS does not consider it to be a deficiency unless under 350 pg/mL. Here is an example article showing a clear link with ADHD/AS entitled B12 Deficiency: A Silent Epidemic with serious Consequences.

Treatment for Pyroluria Syndrome and/or other vitamin/mineral deficiencies are simple and can be provided through the NHS, treated with changes to diet, and/or via regular supplements.

We recommend that every ADHD individual take a daily Vitamin and Mineral Complex, that ideally does not contain any chemicals listed under «Known Problem Chemicals», to be taken daily. Please note that taking vitmain and mineral complexes affects diagnosis and may prevent diagnosis. The best good product we have located is the Vitabiotics range of products such as Well Kid, Well Teen, Well Man & Well Woman and can be purchased from most chemists and supermarkets however is cheaper via our Online Store. NB: Other brands have been checked and all to date contain worse or higher levels of «Known Problem Chemicals» compared to Vitabiotics in their WellKid range but seem not to use any in their other ranges.


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