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Iron supplementation found to help hyperactive children

Posted Sep 12 2008 12:22pm
Posted on 12 December 2007

I not so long ago wrote about the research which has found that hyperactivity in children can seemingly be triggered by certain food additives.

However, just like about any health issue one care’s to mention, hyperactivity (or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – ADHD – to give it it’s full name) is multifactorial in nature. This means that it can be caused by more than one thing. Also, more than one underlying factor may be at play in any individual.

One of the other factors that has previously been identified as a potential underlying factor in ADHD is iron deficiency. In a previous piece (see below), I cited some research which has found iron deficiency to be common in children with ADHD. I also mentioned a study which found that iron supplementation helped reduce ADHD symptoms in children suffering from low iron.

This second study was hampered by having no ‘control’ group taking a placebo. So, we may have an idea that iron supplementation is better than doing nothing, but we cannot tell from this study whether the effect was due to some ‘real’ effect from the iron, or the ‘placebo’ response.

Just recently, a study was published in the journal Pediatric Neurology which tested the effect of iron in ADHD-affected children, and this time, a control group was included. Children with ferritin (iron) levels of less than 30 ng/ml were treated with 80 mg per day of ferrous sulphate or placebo for a period of 12 weeks. The group taking the iron saw a significant reduction in hyperactive symptoms compared to those taking placebo. It is not known quite what the link between iron and ADHD is. However, it is known that iron is necessary for the normal functioning of the brain chemical dopamine – reducing functioning of which may be a factor in ADHD.

What this study shows is that checking iron levels in kids with ADHD makes sense, as does supplementing them with iron should these prove to be low or on the low side.

References:

1. Konofal E, et al. Effects of Iron Supplementation on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children. Pediatr Neurol, 2007;38(1): 20-26

Dietary help for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - 20 February 2005

Reports of exponential growth in the rates of obesity in UK children have led to renewed calls for more activity and exercise to be worked into their lives. However, while some children may be appear to be immobilised by an inherent inertia, others may have an altogether different problem: children suffering with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are typically physically frenetic, and may also exhibit a range of more mental issues including impulsiveness, and mood swings. For ADHD-afflicted children, life can be both fast and furious.

My experience in practice is that kids with ADHD often respond well to dietary manipulation. While the precise approach may depend on individual factors, a diet as low as possible in sugar and artificial additives is usually at the core of my management strategy. In addition, I have found supplementation with omega-3 fats and/or magnesium generally helps to bring some calm and order to an overactive body and mind. However, my attention was recently diverted by research which suggests that the mineral iron might have the ability to temper hyperactivity in kids.

In a study published last December in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, the iron levels in a group of children with ADHD were compared with those of unaffected kids (controls) [1]. Researchers found that 84 per cent of affected children had abnormally low iron levels, compared to only 18 per cent of controls. What is more, the lower the iron level, the more pronounced the ADHD symptoms tended to be. Whatever role iron has in regulating mood and behaviour may well be related to the fact that this nutrient is necessary for the normal functioning of dopamine - a brain chemical that diverse effects on physical and mental processes. Scientists have previously suggested that dopamine depletion is a factor in ADHD, indirect evidence for which comes from the knowledge that Ritalin (a commonly used drug treatment for ADHD) boosts dopamine levels in the brain.

Studies in which iron treatment has been tried as a treatment for ADHD are unfortunately thin on the ground. However, one study found that just a month of iron supplementation led to a significant reduction in hyperactive symptoms as assessed by the sufferers’ parents [2]. While this study did not employ a placebo-taking group, its results do at least support to the notion that iron has the potential to alleviate ADHD.

Excesses of iron can be damaging to the body, so it is important for iron levels to be assessed prior to treatment with this mineral. Measuring blood levels of a substance called ferritin is widely recognised as the best gauge of iron levels in the body. For those with ferritin counts that are low or on the low side of normal, I suggest emphasising iron-rich foods in the diet such as red meat, nuts and seeds. For more rapid results, I usually recommend supplementation with an absorbable form of iron know as NDS iron (available by mail order on 01273 720720). Mounting evidence suggests that for children with ADHD, iron might turn out to be a very precious metal indeed.

References:

1. Konofal E, et al. Iron deficiency in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2004;158(12):1113-5

2. Sever Y, et al. Iron treatment in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. A preliminary report. Neuropsychobiology 1997;35(4):178-80

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