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6 Common Nutrient Deficiencies Linked to ADHD

Medically reviewed by 
 
6 Common Nutrient Deficiencies Linked to ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects up to 15% of children and 8% of adults each year. There are a variety of evidence-based, functional medicine approaches that can effectively reduce symptoms of ADHD, including nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, lifestyle, prescriptions, psychotherapy, and more.

In this article, we’ll review common root causes of ADHD and functional medicine approaches used to treat it.

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Signs & Symptoms of ADHD

ADHD is defined by the National Institutes of Mental Health as “an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development [characterized by] the following types of symptoms:

  • Inattention: difficulty staying on task, sustaining focus, and staying organized, and these problems are not due to defiance or lack of comprehension.
  • Hyperactivity: moving about constantly, including in situations when it is not appropriate, or excessively fidgets, taps, or talks. In adults, hyperactivity may mean extreme restlessness or talking too much.
  • Impulsivity: acting without thinking or difficulty with self-control. Impulsivity could also include a desire for immediate rewards or the inability to delay gratification. An impulsive person may interrupt others or make important decisions without considering long-term consequences.”

ADHD symptoms can significantly impact people’s lives, including relationships, job performance, and more. Not everyone with ADHD has the same symptoms. People who struggle with the inattentive symptoms of ADHD may have trouble with time management, deadlines, deep listening, attention to detail, and the ability to complete projects once they start them.

For others, the hyperactivity symptoms associated with ADHD can make it difficult for them to stay seated, can lead to interruptions in class or work situations, and can cause behavioral difficulties that create conflict with others.

The good news is - whatever the symptoms are - there are many ways to treat ADHD and get back to living the best, most focused, and centered life. Let’s review them!

Possible Causes of ADHD

Nutrient Deficiencies

People with ADHD have higher chances of being nutrient deficient than the average person.

  • Iron

People with ADHD are twice as likely to suffer iron-deficiency anemia compared to members of the general population.

  • Vitamin D

78.4% of children with ADHD are deficient in vitamin D compared to 48% of children without ADHD.

  • Omega 3, Omega 6, Magnesium, & Zinc

One study showed that 12 weeks of consumption of a combination of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, magnesium, and zinc showed a considerable reduction in symptoms of attention deficit, emotional problems, hyperactivity, and impulsivity assessed by SNAP-IV.

Hormone Imbalances

Estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone hormone imbalances can worsen symptoms of concentration, impulsivity, and inattention in ADHD patients

In one study, boys with ADHD were far more likely to have higher sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) levels and lower DHEA levels than their peers.

Heavy Metals

Excessive blood levels of heavy metals like lead or mercury can interfere with neural signaling and worsen attention symptoms. Lead has been extensively researched in ADHD and can impact young children’s neural development even at low levels.

Food Allergies and Sensitivities

Since the 1970s, parents, and practitioners have found that their pediatric patients with ADHD often experience an increase in symptoms after ingesting food ingredients like artificial food colorings (AFCs) and highly allergenic foods like milk, chocolate, soy, and wheat. Additionally, anti-inflammatory eating patterns like the DASH diet have been found to improve symptoms of ADHD.

Functional Medicine Labs to Find the Root Causes of ADHD

Testing for Nutrient Deficiencies

Assessing nutrient deficiencies can be done in many ways, including at-home blood spot tests and serum blood levels. A CBC and CMP, which your doctor runs every year, can detect vitamin D and iron deficiencies.

Testing for Heavy Metals

The most common way to test for heavy metal levels is by checking hair, blood, and urine levels.

For further testing, a provocation challenge test can be done. This test requires you to take a small dose of a heavy metal chelator and then test how much you excrete into your urine.

Testing for Food Sensitivities

There are blood spot or blood draw collection kits that can be used to find food sensitivities.

One thing to be aware of is that the food needs to have been eaten in the last three days to make sure the body has produced enough immunoglobulins to identify a reaction.

Testing for Hormone Imbalances

Most functional medicine practitioners like to test hormone levels over an extended period of time. Hormones can be tested through urinalysis, saliva, and blood draws.

Functional Medicine Treatment for ADHD

Treatments for ADHD should be individualized to the root cause.

Nutrient deficiencies should be addressed with a food-as-medicine approach and supplements to increase deficiencies. A whole-food low inflammatory diet is commonly prescribed.

Hormone treatments should focus on eliminating the barriers to normal hormone production using a combination of lifestyle changes, nutrient therapy, herbs, and even pharmaceuticals.

A guided elimination diet addresses food allergies and sensitivities. These are usually done for a period of 30 - 90 days, and then foods are slowly reintroduced one by one.

Summary

There are many root causes of ADHD. These include nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, food allergies and sensitivities, and heavy metals. Functional Medicine can effectively reduce symptoms of ADHD by utilizing a root cause approach.

Special thanks to our naturopathic assistant, Lindsey Bevilacqua, for her help with this article.

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The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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References

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