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The most common behavioral disorder in children is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD 3. ADHD is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. Preliminary research has shown that dietary supplements may minimize symptoms of ADHD, however, many have not been proven to be effective and are not federally regulated. Individuals interested in supplements to treat ADHD should consult a physician.
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and have many health benefits 2. Essential fatty acids may help children with ADHD because they are thought to play a role in brain function, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center 2. Fatty acids can be consumed by eating fish or fish oil, walnuts, flaxseed and certain vegetable oils. Supplemental forms of essential fatty acids include fish oil capsules, evening primrose oil, black current seed oil and flaxseed oil 2.
Vitamins and Minerals
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According to a 2004 study in the “Journal of the American College of Nutrition” by French researchers, supplemental magnesium and vitamin B6 appeared to improve behavior in children with hyperexcitability, a condition characterized by physical aggression, instability and inattention 1. Magnesium is an essential mineral found in whole grains, nuts and seeds. Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin found in beans, nuts, legumes, eggs, meats, fish, whole grains and fortified breads and cereals. Magnesium and vitamin B6 can be supplemented on their own or as part of a multivitamin or B-complex vitamin.
According to a 2008 article from “Pediatric Neurology” by researchers at the Hôpital Robert Debré, iron deficiency may contribute to ADHD, and iron supplements appear to improve ADHD symptoms in children with low iron levels. Bastyr University says iron deficiency can cause multiple behavioral problems; iron supplements are thought to improve behavior and academic performance. Iron is an essential mineral that can be found in meat, poultry, fish, beans, grains and some fruits and vegetables.
The UMMC says zinc, an essential mineral, regulates brain chemicals and in some studies has shown to improve behavior slightly in children with ADHD. Zinc can be supplemented as part of a multivitamin. Dietary sources of zinc include meat, poultry, beans, nuts and certain seafood.
- According to a 2004 study in the “Journal of the American College of Nutrition” by French researchers, supplemental magnesium and vitamin B6 appeared to improve behavior in children with hyperexcitability, a condition characterized by physical aggression, instability and inattention 1.
- According to a 2008 article from “Pediatric Neurology” by researchers at the Hôpital Robert Debré, iron deficiency may contribute to ADHD, and iron supplements appear to improve ADHD symptoms in children with low iron levels.
L-carnitine is an amino acid. According to the UMMC, a study of boys with ADHD showed that 54 percent of the group displayed improved behavior with L-carnitine supplements. The UMMC notes that L-carnitine has not been studied for its safety in children and more research is needed about its effects.
The Best Supplements for ADD/ADHD
Herbal supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and may have side effects and lack scientific research; however, some have been used to treat ADHD. According to the UMMC, herbs that have been used in ADHD for their calming effects include Roman chamomile, Valerian, lemon balm and passion flower. Ginkgo and American ginseng have also been used to as remedies for ADHD.
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- “Journal of the American College of Nutrition”; Magnesium VitB6 intake reduces central nervous system hyperexcitability in children; M. Mousain-Bosc, et al.; October 2004.
- Linus Pauling Institute: Essential Fatty Acids
- “Pediatric Neurology”; Effects of iron supplementation on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children”; E. Konofal, et al.; January 2008.
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Bethany Fong is a registered dietitian and chef from Honolulu. She has produced a variety of health education materials and worked in wellness industries such as clinical dietetics, food service management and public health.