At a glance
Most over-the-counter supplements do not reduce ADHD symptoms.
Supplements and prescription medications aren’t studied the same way.
Supplements can have harmful side effects.
If your child has ADHD, you may wonder about supplements for ADHD and if they can reduce ADHD symptoms. You may have heard that certain herbs, vitamins, and minerals can help. But there are a lot of misconceptions about ADHD supplements. And there are some key facts to consider if you’re thinking about giving them to your child.
For instance, supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA. That means manufacturers don’t have to test them for safety or effectiveness before stores sell them to the public. So supplements don’t have to meet the same standards as prescription medications.
Keep in mind, too, that the amount of active ingredient in capsules may vary. So you can’t be completely sure of how much dosage you’re getting. Also, if side effects of a supplement are reported, there are no formal rules about investigating them.
Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know about specific supplements and ADHD (also known as ADD).
Vitamins for ADHD
What you may hear: Some people claim kids with ADHD have lower levels of certain vitamins and minerals in their blood, and that this can lead to ADHD symptoms. They say taking vitamin and mineral supplements can reduce impulsivity, inattentiveness, and hyperactivity.
Specific vitamins and minerals include: Iron, zinc, magnesium, potassium, calcium, vitamin C
The reality: Kids with ADHD don’t have lower levels of vitamins and minerals than other kids. Giving your child vitamin and mineral supplements that aren’t necessary can be harmful. Consult your doctor before giving them to your child.
Keep in mind: If you have any reason to think your child might have low levels of a specific vitamin or mineral, tell your child’s health care provider. They can test your child’s blood levels.
Herbs for ADHD
What you may hear: Herbal supplements can reduce ADHD symptoms. And since they’re made from plants, they’re safe.
Specific herbs include: Ginkgo, valerian, St.-John’s-wort, ginseng, kava
The reality: Studies have found that herbal supplements are not effective at treating ADHD. These kinds of supplements are often labeled as “natural” or “green.” But these products aren’t regulated, so they may not always be safe. Herbal supplements may have side effects that can make health problems worse. They may also interfere with prescription medications.
Keep in mind: Don’t rely on studies that claim herbal supplements can reduce ADHD symptoms. Sometimes these studies consist of only five to 10 people. And in some cases they may even be funded by the supplement company.
Omega fatty acids for ADHD
What you may hear: Omega supplements can reduce symptoms of ADHD.
Specific omegas include: Omega-3 (like fish oil), omega-6, and omega-9
The reality: Some kids with ADHD may have lower amounts of omega fatty acids in their blood. These fatty acids help neurons in the brain communicate better. When there’s a lack of communication, ADHD-like symptoms can occur. This includes impulsivity and trouble with focus.
Research found that kids with ADHD who took omega supplements had a small improvement in their ADHD symptoms.
Keep in mind: Omega supplements can have side effects like upset stomach and blood thinning. Also, not all kids with ADHD are low in omega fatty acids. So be sure to talk to your child’s doctor before giving your child omega fatty acids.
ADHD medication is still the most effective treatment for ADHD for most kids. However, there are other non-medication treatments your child can try in addition to or instead of medicine. If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, learn about the next steps to take.
Understood is not affiliated with any pharmaceutical company.
Omega supplements may help kids with ADHD.
Always talk to your doctor before giving your child any type of supplement for ADHD.
Don’t rely on studies that include only a few people.
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About the author
About the author
Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.
Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, PhD is an ADHD/ASD expert and a best-selling author.