Attention Disorders and Diet

Nutritional Supplements for ADHD or any attention disorder can be of questionable value.  I look at all new claims of improvements in ADHD symptoms as a result of vitamins, amino acids, or herbal medicine very skeptically as most of these diet interventions provide little help to individuals dealing with inattention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity.

I have read many studies on the pros and cons of ADHD diet supplements and have tried everything from amino acids, to homeopathic medicines, to gingko biloba to ginseng and have frankly been unimpressed.  I am particularly wary of the amino acid supplementation claims as I believe that this supplement has been extensively studied and has consistently found lacking.  I am also saddened by the fact that many parents spend a considerable amount of money on expensive amino acid supplements that frankly do not work.  

I recently picked up a book published in the early 90s by Paul H. Wender, where he describes at length the tolerance that develops and the loss of therapeutic effect of amino acid supplementation over time. The amino acids are thought to be helpful because they are a precursor to dopamine in the brain.  Unfortunately these amino acids are a rate limiting factor in the production of dopamine so the brain actually sees the additional precursor as sign that there is already plenty of the neurotransmitter on board.

There are a few supplements; however, that I believe should be part of the diet of any family dealing with ADHD.   I recently saw a poster that said, "My kid’s idea of a balanced diet is a cookie in every hand".  I think my kids would totally agree with that sentiment.  Getting kids to eat properly is an uphill battle so I believe that, for most kids, multivitamins and a few other supplements are a must.

I believe that the Omega-3 fatty acids help with inattention, hyperactivity and depression.  I believe that children, in particular, eat diets that are potentially deficient in everything so a daily multivitamin is essential and is also beneficial as it helps the body use the Omega-3 supplements more effectively.  I believe that zinc helps smooth out the edges of hyperactivity and impulsiveness and that it also potentiates the action of stimulant medication.  I believe that you need to make certain that your kid’s multivitamin contains at least 12mg of zinc as most kid's vitamins do not.  I believe that a diet high in carbohydrates and sugar undermines any treatment plan for ADHD.  I believe that it is a no-brainer that you eliminate artificial colors and sweeteners from children's diets, and I believe that if your child is allergic to milk, wheat, or eggs that these should be eliminated from their diets as well.  Finally, I believe that if your child is iron deficient, an iron supplement must be added to their diet regimen.

I previously posted about changing the multivitamins that the kids are taking to the Flintstones Complete Vitamins and Mineral formula that has the 12mg of zinc instead of 2.5 that is found in most multivitamins.  I told you that I would let you know if I saw a change.  

As the zinc studies reported, I too have found that the additional zinc makes my hyperactive/impulsive son happier somehow.  He has always been like the "girl with the curl in her forehead, when she was good, she was very good and when she was bad, she was horrid", but it seems that since we have added the zinc we have had multiple occasions where he is what I would call "super delightful".  

At the same time that we added the vitamin with additional zinc, I started my older son and I on L-carnitine because, even though I have always been skeptical of the amino acids, I had read, in a new study, that the L-carnitine might be different and might actually help.  I have to say that I noticed no change in either of us so that, once again, I cannot recommend that anyone use amino acids for ADHD.

The following chart from Health Canada contains guidelines on how much fish oil your child needs daily.

0 to 12 months 500 mg
1 year 600 mg
2 to 3 years 700 mg
4 to 6 years 1,000 mg
7 to 9 years 1,200 mg for boys/ 1,000 mg for girls
10 to 12 years 1,400 mg for boys/ 1,200 mg for girls
13 to 15 years 1,500 mg for boys/ 1,200 mg for girls

I do realize that my house only has three study subjects and that I cannot state, based on the findings at my house, that these diet changes will help everyone with ADHD.   The way I see it though, if I helped even one or two other families with this information, then the hour or so that I spent writing this were well spent.  Let me know how things are going at your house.  I am always interested.


  1. Believe me, your blog is extremely helpful! I have picked up at least 10 helpful suggestions from fish oil to timers, and have found your observations right on.
    Thank you for this blog!
    Kind Regards,

  2. I am so glad to hear that. I kind of live for feedback and thanks so so much for letting me know!!!

  3. I have found a distinct benefit from supplememnting 100% RDA magnesium, making sure to keep the calcium in balance (rulle is 2X calcium to 1 MG). While I can't cite any studies (haven't looked for any) I believe whole heartedly in the necessity of this mineral and it's positive role on emotional steadiness.

  4. I have found that supplementing with 20-40 mg of zinc at bedtime works best for our sons. Also, L-carnitine is very helpful for cognition and attention, due to mitochondria dysfunction that my sons tested positive. I also utilize magnesium and GABA for impulsive behaviors and improved sleep. I like your blog a lot. Have you tried taking L-carnitine when you wake, 30 mins before any meal? It competes for absorption with protein, so we take it between meals.

  5. Thanks so much for this tip!! Do you supplement with pills, have you by any chance found chewables of the zinc? I have not tried the L-carnitine/


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