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Nutritional Deficiencies & ADHD

By Brindusa Vanta ; Updated August 14, 2017

ADHD is the most common behavior condition in children that often continues into adulthood. In an effort to understand this disorder, extensive research has been done over the years. Clinical studies link ADHD with several nutritional deficiencies, some of them derived from an overall unhealthy diet. Other studies connect ADHD with specific nutrients such as minerals, vitamins and essential fatty acids.

The Diet

A healthy diet is important for overall well-being, particularly in ADHD patients. Typically, a North American diet is high in fatty foods and unhealthy carbohydrates. It is low in vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients mainly because fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish are not included in the diet enough. In a July 2010 study published in "Medical News Today," Dr. Oddy, M.D. concluded that a diet high in Western-type foods was linked with more than double the risk of an ADHD diagnosis in teenagers.

Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids, especially omega-3 acids, play a crucial role in memory, brain performance, mood and behavior. Symptoms of essential fatty acids deficiency include hyperactivity in children and disorders of the nervous system, poor memory, fatigue, inflammatory conditions and hormonal imbalances. In the 2000 issue of the “American Journal for Clinical Nutrition,” C.J. Antalis and colleagues found that patients with ADHD are deficient in certain essential fatty acids.


Magnesium is considered “the anti-stress" mineral and it acts as a natural tranquilizer. A person who is deficient in this mineral may manifest hyperactivity, startled reactions, insomnia, restlessness and mental confusion, which, interestingly, are common symptoms in ADHD. In the June 2, 1997 issue of “Magnesium Research,” T. Kozielec and B. Sarobrat-Hermelin concluded that a significant percentage of children with ADHD were deficient in magnesium.

Other Minerals

Zinc plays an important role in the activity of neurotransmitters, fatty acids and melatonin, which are connected with healthy behavior and sleep. Some effects of zinc insufficiency can translate into mental and sleep disorders and loss of appetite. Zinc may also depress copper levels. In a study published in the June 28, 2010 issue of the "International Journal of Pediatrics," the authors concluded that children with ADHD showed a predisposition for low zinc and copper status. They also found an association between ADHD and low ferritin levels, which is an expression of iron deficiency.


Even more than the general population, ADHD patients need an adequate vitamin intake for optimal brain function and to balance mineral shortage. Vitamins and minerals have a synergistic action, which means a vitamin deficiency may correlate with an imbalance of other nutrients. For example, a deficiency in vitamin C will affect some vitamins and minerals because this vitamin increases the absorption of copper and iron, and is connected with the absorption of vitamin E, selenium and beta carotene.


The best approach to treat nutritional deficiencies in ADHD is to follow a healthy diet and take additional supplements recommended by a qualified professional.

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