Micronutrients can help improve behavior in kids with ADHD, emotional dysregulation

WASHINGTON — Children who have been diagnosed with ADHD and are vulnerable to frequent mood swings may benefit from taking more micronutrients (vitamins, minerals), according to a new study.

Scientists report that children with ADHD and emotional dysregulation randomly instructed to take a micronutrient formula were much more likely to see their symptoms improve (54%) in comparison to a placebo group (18%). The micronutrient formula was made up of various, known vitamins and essential minerals. Participants took the formula for a total of eight weeks.

“Supplementing with all known vitamins and essential minerals, at doses between Recommended Daily Allowance and Upper Tolerable Limit, may improve mood and concentration in children with ADHD and emotional dysregulation,” says lead study author Jeanette Johnstone, PhD, in a media release. “These findings, replicating results of a previous randomized trial of micronutrients in children with ADHD conducted in New Zealand, confirm that supplementation with a broad range of nutrients may benefit some children. These findings may offer guidance to doctors and families seeking integrative treatments for their children with ADHD and related emotional dysregulation.”

Researchers recruited 135 medication-free children and their parents across three locations: Portland, Oregon; Columbus, Ohio; and Alberta, Canada. Then, participants were randomly assigned to take either micronutrient or placebo capsules for eight weeks. Most subjects (75%) adhered to researchers’ instructions for the entire duration of the study.

It’s important to note that the micronutrient formula was well tolerated among participants. No adverse health events were seen in either group, nor were there any red flags on blood and urine tests. Also, everyone involved (parents, kids, and clinicians) was in the dark as far as who belonged to what group. No participant knew if they were taking a placebo or not.

Moreover, besides just the behavioral and emotional benefits, kids taking the real micronutrient formula also grew .2 inches more in height than kids taking the placebo. “The growth finding, also a replication from the previous child micronutrient study, is particularly encouraging, as height suppression is a concern with first-line ADHD medication,” Dr. Johnstone adds.

Each child’s symptom severity following the eight-week experimental period was assessed by both their parents and usual clinician. Both groups (parents and doctors) didn’t know which kids were taking placebos, but the parents reported significantly improved behavior that was about equal across both groups (placebo, micronutrient). Only the doctors were able to accurately pick out which kids were taking actual micronutrients. This shows, study authors theorize, both the importance of blinded clinician ratings and the bias that comes naturally to parents when it comes to their own kids.

“No treatment is 100% effective for all with ADHD,” comments senior study co-author Dr. L. Eugene Arnold. “For example, about 2/3 respond to the first stimulant drug tried, which is an established first-line ADHD treatment despite emotional, appetite, and growth side effects. So, it’s encouraging that a good half of the children responded to this relatively safe treatment.”

“Future studies will focus on the micronutrients’ mechanisms of action and subgroup responses to understand for whom and why this intervention works. Mechanistic hypotheses to be tested include changes in the gut microbiome and its metabolome, reductions in inflammatory markers (e.g. cytokines), replenishment of minerals, and optimization of neurotransmission. In order to increase parent sensitivity to child behavior changes, we plan to utilize real-time data reporting methods such as ‘ecological momentary assessment’ using a phone or other device to capture behaviors when they occur,” Dr. Johnstone concludes.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

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