Nutritional imbalances which affect impulsivity, inattention and hyperactivity

  • Wed, 09/28/2022 - 19:15
  • Nutritional imbalances which affect impulsivity, inattention and hyperactivity
  • by IMI health

Inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. All three are common traits among kids - especially neurodivergent kids. But when these qualities begin to interfere with our kids’ daily lives, from school to playtime, how can we support them nutritionally?

These three qualities have clear links to nutrition which reveal promising approaches for management of these symptoms. 

People who demonstrate these qualities are often found to have lower levels of certain nutrients - even when they’re neurotypical.

Supplementation of these nutritional imbalances has been shown to improve attention while reducing hyperactivity and impulsivity. 

Filling these nutritional gaps is particularly important in childhood, as these imbalances don’t only exacerbate issues mentioned above, 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, especially if you’re a neurodivergent kid, which 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 challenges of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Symptoms of nutritional imbalance

Signs of nutritional imbalances 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 signs of nutritional imbalance, and can pinpoint the best tests to create a clear nutritional profile for you or your child.

Signs may vary depending on the specific nutritional imbalances, but common signs include-

  • Low immunity, allergies, or sweating
  • Hyperactivity and twitchiness
  • Digestive problems
  • Fatigue or irritability
  • Poor attention span or difficulty at school
  • Selective eating

Common nutritional imbalance


Having low levels of iron during childhood can cause changes to your child’s brain chemistry, causing developmental delays and affecting the function of neurotransmitters.

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

Imbalances 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 problems had low levels of iron. [2]

Studies have shown that when supplementing low levels of iron, kids experienced a reduction in these issues. [3]


Low levels of magnesium affect cognitive ability and processing. It can also cause mood swings, fatigue and difficulty concentrating - signs which are typical of neurodivergent conditions.

Low levels of magnesium have a clear link to neurodivergent conditions. One study showed that low magnesium levels were present in 72% of neurodivergent kids. [4]

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

Over that time period, two thirds of those with physical problems like high muscle tension or tone and tremors resolved these issues.

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

When the course of magnesium and B6 supplementation ended, these qualities returned. [4]


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

Imbalances cause problems, including irritability, loss of appetite, inattention, jitters and delayed cognitive development. Research indicates that there is a significant association between low zinc levels and issues like inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. [6]

Low zinc levels can also cause kids to be less responsive to stimulants, 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 signs of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Some research demonstrates a reduction of these issues, while other studies have neutral results. 

The importance of a sufficient zinc intake, whether with the aim of reducing managing attention or improving your child’s health still remain essential.

A prolonged suboptimal level of zinc 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 problems like 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 developing neurodivergent conditions 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.

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 neurodivergent conditions tend to have low levels of DHA, and supplementation has been shown to reduce signs like hyperactivity, impulsivity and attention while giving short term memory, visual leaning and reading a boost. [8]

In Summary

Certain nutritional imbalances can cause common issues in childhood like inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Supplementation has been proven by research to manage these symptoms for better quality of life. 

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 whether you’re an adult, child or somewhere in between. If you’d like to test your child or yourself for nutritional imbalances, we can help. 


[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.