There is no hard scientific evidence directly linking vitamin depletion or supplementation with ADHD. However, there is ample clinical evidence that selective vitamin supplementation has a positive benefit on the symptoms of ADHD. Below are the vitamins I consider an important element of an integrated approach to treating ADHD and an explanation of their significance.
Vitamin D — the “sunshine” vitamin
This recently popularized vitamin is an essential supplement for any child (or adult). We know that it plays a critical role in protecting the body against some of the most serious chronic illnesses of our times including cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, bowel disease (such as Chrohn’s), and multiple sclerosis. Vitamin D is also essential for immune function, seems to benefit mood and anxiety disorders, and offers some protection against Alzheimers disease. There is no firm scientific studies supporting the use of vitamin D in ADHD, but there are certainly some excellent reasons to expect that this miracle vitamin could positively impact this disorder as well. We know that learning and memory deficits may have some link to prenatal vitamin D deficiency. There is considerable evidence correlating vitamin D with depressive tendencies, especially those related to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Vitamin D can help regulate enzymes, impact metabolism, assist glucose transport, and synthesize neurotransmitters in the brain — all of which support nervous system function. Finally, vitamin D is essential for the absorption of Calcium and Magnesium – the latter being an essential mineral in the treatment of ADHD.
Vitamin D supplementation is probably necessary for most people, but it is especially so for people living in cold dark climates. Those with darker skin tend to be more deficient in vitamin D as their skin absorbs fewer ultra-violet rays from the sun. There is little harm in taking vitamin D – it is virtually impossible to take too much – but a blood test is necessary to determine the extent of deficiency, and therefore the optimal levels of supplementation. Vitamin D is fat soluble which means that the body can hold on to some vitamin D stores; and also means that it is best taken with a small amount of fat – using liquid D drops on yogurt for instance is an easy and effective way to take this valuable vitamin.
The B vitamins are known as the anti-stress vitamins. These vitamins are easily depleted – many medications deplete the body’s store of Bs, as does high sugar/high carbohydrate diets, excessive exercise, stress, and food additives. Many critical enzymes including those involved in carbohydrate metabolism, protein and DNA synthesis, and red blood cell formation require B vitamins. Because the Bs are water soluble, the body expels excess vitamin, making overdosing difficult (but also making depletion easy). This also means that there is little danger in supplementing without blood testing. A good B complex is an excellent supplement for children with ADHD. Below is an explanation of the two B vitamins most significantly indicated in treating the symptoms of ADHD.
B6 is associated with immune system stress as well as situational stress. It is necessary for the synthesis of serotonin, dopamine, and norepenephrine – brain chemicals that regulate the balance between calm, sleep, and relaxation on the one hand, and on the other, wakefulness, focus, and attention. B6 deficiency can cause symptoms such as muscle weakness, nervousness, irritability, depression, difficulty concentrating, and memory weakness – symptoms that can look very much like ADHD. In addition, B6 works alongside magnesium, a lovely calming mineral, useful for most children with ADHD. B6 is often a component in most multi-vitamins, but it is ofen not present in sufficient quantity. As mentioned above, a B-complex is often the best way to get sufficient B’s– look for a brand that provides a supplemental daily dose of at least 25 mg of B6, although up to 100 mg is a safe daily supplement for adults (children under 12 should be taking half that amount).
B12 is the B vitamin most intimately associated with mental health, effecting mood, memory and sleep. It is an essential supplement for all vegetarians as its primary dietary source is animal products. A deficiency of B12 can cause pernicicous anaemia, as well as permanent damage to the brain and the neurological system. B12 deficiency can cause symptoms of hyperexcitability, depression, fatigue, sleeplessness, panic, anxiety, paranoia, and obsessive behavior. B12 is necessary for the synthesis of certain amino acids that promote concentration, alertness, focus, and a sense of well-being. Subclinical B12 deficiency is diagnosed through blood testing– anything below 600 should be supplemented for, although the range for supplementation is much higher in countries such as Japan where there is a much lower incidence of ADHD. The preferred form of vitamin B12 is methylcobalamin. Intramuscular shots are the most effective way to boost B12 levels for the severely depleted (under 200); sublingual supplementation is the method used in less extreme cases.
No vitamins work in isolation, but instead, work as part of a complex of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and so on. We know, for example, that calcium absorption is dependent on vitamin D, iron absorption requires vitamin C, vitamin B6 is necessary for Magnesium absorption, and Omega 3s work well with antioxidants.