Zinc Improves Children’s ADHD Symptoms
Taking zinc supplements can improve the symptoms of attention deficit–hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, according to a study published in Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry (2004;28:181–90).
Primarily a childhood disorder (more common in boys than in girls), ADHD is characterized by impulsiveness, difficulty controlling body movements, and difficulty maintaining attention and focus. The symptoms of ADHD often lead to problems in school and in personal relationships. It is estimated that 3 to 6% of school-aged children in the United States are affected by ADHD and it has recently been recognized that the disorder can persist into adulthood.
The cause of ADHD is unknown but is believed to involve multiple factors. Stimulant medications are the most common treatment, but many people with ADHD do not benefit from stimulants or experience intolerable side effects. Moreover, abuse of these medicines has become a serious concern. Dietary changes and nutritional supplements have also been used to treat ADHD but there is little research evaluating these approaches. Several studies have found that children with ADHD are more likely to be zinc-deficient than other children. Supplementing with sources of essential fatty acids (EFAs), such as evening primrose oil, has also been found in some, but not all, studies to benefit people with ADHD, and some of these results suggest a link between zinc deficiency and low EFA levels.
In the current study, 400 otherwise healthy children diagnosed with ADHD were randomly assigned to receive either 40 mg of zinc (as zinc sulfate) per day or placebo for 12 weeks. All of the participants were evaluated at the beginning of the study, and after 1, 4, and 12 weeks of treatment using scales to measure attention, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and impaired socialization. They also had blood drawn to measure levels of zinc and free fatty acids at the beginning of the study and after 12 weeks of treatment.
At the 4-week evaluation, the average total ADHD score had improved significantly more in the children given zinc compared with the children given placebo. Specifically, the zinc-treated children had significantly greater improvement in scores on hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and impaired socialization scales than the children given placebo. At the 12-week evaluation, the improvement in the zinc group relative to the placebo group was even more pronounced. Finally, levels of free fatty acids increased significantly in the children treated with zinc, while no change was seen in the children given placebo.
The results of this study demonstrate a potential role for zinc in the treatment of ADHD. Further research is needed to compare the effects of zinc with those of stimulant medications, and to examine the combined effect of zinc and other nutritional supplements on ADHD symptoms.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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