Nutritional deficiencies which affect ADHD

  • Wed, 09/28/2022 - 19:15
  • Nutritional deficiencies which affect ADHD
  • by IMI health

Though the cause of ADHD is not yet fully understood by doctors, there are clear links to nutrition which reveal promising emerging treatments for the condition.

People with ADHD are commonly found to be deficient in certain nutrients. When deficient in these nutrients, people with neurotypical brains also often exhibit the same symptoms as ADHD.

Supplementation of these nutrients results in a reduction of ADHD symptoms, helping those with the condition manage their life day to day a little easier.

Filling these nutritional gaps is particularly important in childhood, as these deficiencies don’t only exacerbate behavioural symptoms of ADHD, they also have a direct impact on the development of your child’s brain and body.

Getting these nutrients from your diet comes with certain issues. ADHD impacts appetite, and often goes hand in hand with selective eating. Even if you are eating well, dietary nutrition is often found to be lacking due to poor quality soil, long haul food importation and pesticides which affect the nutritional profile of fresh produce.

The answer comes in the form of nutritional supplements, which can help manage emotional and physical symptoms of ADHD.

Symptoms of nutritional deficiency

Signs of deficiency can be wide ranging and can vary from mild to debilitating. They often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Here at IMI, our naturopaths are experts in spotting symptoms of deficiency, and can pinpoint the best tests to create a clear nutritional profile for you or your child.

Symptoms may vary depending on the specific nutritional deficiency, but common signs include-

  • Bedwetting
  • Persistent colds, allergies, wheezing, stuffy nose or sweating
  • Hyperactivity and twitchiness
  • Digestive troubles, including constipation, diarrhoea and stomach aches
  • Fatigue or irritability
  • Poor attention span or difficulty at school
  • Selective eating

Common nutritional deficiencies


Also known as anaemia, iron deficiency during childhood can cause changes to your child’s brain chemistry, causing developmental delays and affecting the function of neurotransmitters.

The developmental delays iron deficiency can cause include decreased motor skill, social interaction and attention to tasks. [1]

Deficiencies in this mineral can cause behavioural problems like irritability, disruptive behaviour, short attention span and disinterest in surroundings. One study found that 73% of children with behavioural disorders had iron deficiency. [2]

Studies have shown that when iron-deficient kids with ADHD took an iron supplement, their symptoms improved. [3]

Iron deficiencies can dramatically affect the way you or your child function day to day.


Magnesium deficiency affects cognitive ability and processing. It can also cause mood swings, fatigue and difficulty concentrating- symptoms which are typical of neurodivergent conditions like ADHD.

Low levels of or deficiencies in magnesium have a clear link to ADD and ADHD. One study showed that magnesium deficiency was present in 72% of kids with ADHD. [4]

In this study, kids with ADHD and magnesium deficiency were given a combination of magnesium and vitamin B6 for 2-6 months.

Over that time period, two thirds of those with physical symptoms like hypertonia (high muscle tension or tone) and tremors resolved their physical symptoms.

Behaviours like inattention, aggression, hyperactivity and impulsivity also improved dramatically.

When the course of magnesium and B6 supplementation ended, symptoms of ADHD returned. [4]


Zinc is essential for brain function and helps brain cells communicate with one another for better cognitive function. Deficiencies can cause developmental delays which affect behavioural, emotional and cognitive function. [5]

Deficiencies cause symptoms which mimic those of ADHD, including irritability, loss of appetite, inattention, jitters and delayed cognitive development. Research indicates that there is a significant association between low zinc levels and ADHD diagnosis. [6]

Zinc deficiency can also cause kids to be less responsive to stimulants (like common ADHD medication Ritalin), medications and omega 3 supplementation.

Zinc is also essential to help the body use vitamin B6, which is key for protein function, mood health and energy levels, as well as helping convert essential fatty acids which are required for brain cell function.

Studies have shown mixed results on the efficacy of zinc supplementation for ADHD symptoms. Some research demonstrates a reduction in symptoms, while other studies have neutral results. The importance of resolving a zinc deficiency, whether with the aim of reducing ADHD symptoms or improving your child’s health still remain essential.

Untreated zinc deficiencies can permanently stunt your child’s growth, and the short term effects can cause reduced immune function, stomach upsets and cognitive impairment. [7]


Vitamins A, C, D, E and B complex are essential for brain development and immunity building. B vitamins are particularly essential for brain and nerve development.

Their roles range from maintaining healthy moods, energy levels, immune function, physical co-ordination and metabolism. All these benefits help manage symptoms of ADHD like altered immunity and metabolism, fatigue, irritability and more.

One of the biggest benefits though? High antioxidant levels to beat the negative effects of pollutants.

Air pollution can increase childhood risk of ADHD by up to 62%, as found by a study which analysed data from 37,000 children in Vancouver. [7]

By nourishing your child’s antioxidant levels with a multivitamin, you help reduce the effects of environmental factors like pollution which can contribute to symptoms.

Essential fatty acids

Fat is the primary component of the brain, and makes up for 60% of its weight. These fats are mainly DHA and EPA, the key constituents of omega 3.

People with ADHD tend to have low levels of DHA, and supplementation has been shown to reduce symptoms like hyperactivity, impulsivity, attention, short term memory, visual leaning and reading. [8]

Omega 3 supplementation has been shown to improve levels of dopamine: the same neurotransmitter that stimulant medications for ADHD like Ritalin seek to boost. [10]

Research on omega 3 and ADHD show that it could have positive benefits when it comes to medication too. Studies show that omega 3 can be used as an effective treatment for ADHD, helping reduce the dosage of stimulant medication needed. This could help reduce the side effects they cause, which include insomnia, headaches and decreased appetite. [11]

In Summary

Certain nutritional deficiencies can cause symptoms which mimic those of ADHD. Low levels of these nutrients are commonly found in people with ADHD, and supplementation has been found to reduce and resolve symptoms.

Though you should be able to get all the nutrients you need from your diet, this is often easier said than done. Nutritional supplements can help fill those gaps and manage symptoms of ADHD for better quality of life, whether you’re an adult, child or somewhere in between.


[1] California Childcare Health Program, Iron deficiency in early childhood
[2] G Mahajan et al, Iron profile in children with behavioural disorders, 2011
[3] J Y Yager, D S Hartfield, Neurologic manifestations of iron deficiency in childhood, 2002
[4] F E Baza et al, Magnesium supplementation in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, 2016.
[5] M M Black, Zinc deficiency and child development, 1998.
[6] Dr M H Bloch, Nutritional supplements for the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, 2014.
[7] N N Chen, Long term effects of zinc deficiency and zinc supplementation, 2019.
[8] Open Access Government, Air pollution can increase childhood ADHD risk by 62%, 2022
[9] E Derbyshire, Do Omega-3/6 fatty acids have a therapeutic role in children and young people with ADHD, 2017.
[10] M E Sublette et al, Polyunsaturated fatty acid associations with dopaminergic indices in major depressive disorder, 2014.
[11] A Konigs and A J Kiliaan, Critical appraisal of omega-3 fatty acids in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder treatment, 2016.