Zinc sulfate found to help children with ADHD

There is yet another study that shows a positive therapeutic relationship between diet or dietary supplements and ADHD. Supplements contain nutrients that are – or at least should be – found in our everyday diet. Therefore, if supplements can somehow help lessen the severity of or even correct ADHD, this proves that there is a causal link between food and attention deficit/hyperactivity.

In a study I reviewed a few months ago, some children were given Ritalin and others a long list of vitamins and other nutrients. This was a shotgun approach whereby children taking the supplements were given everything under the sun instead of specifically what they needed. Nevertheless it worked, and the study found similar improvements in both groups (1).

This new study was less ambitious but no less revealing (2). In a double-blind randomized trial some children were given Ritalin plus a sugar drink (not exactly an inert substance in this population) and other children were given Ritalin plus a zinc sulfate solution yielding 15 mg of zinc.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the zinc group outperformed the Ritalin-only group in every aspect of behavior. Both groups had the same occurrence of side effects, showing that zinc didn’t cause any problems, although the zinc group did tend to complain about the metallic taste of the drink they were given every day.

How could it be that such a small amount of zinc could help so much? Several factors come into play. First and foremost, a majority of today’s children are deficient in zinc. Zinc is found in many foods, like red meat, that are often avoided, and in the outer shell of grains. When grains are refined, most if not all of the zinc is lost. When you see a label that reads “enriched grain product” it should actually read “impoverished” when it comes to zinc, because the zinc is removed in the refining process and not added back.

Zinc is also needed for more than 200 human enzymes to function normally. In the brain, enzymes that produce and regulate the function of dopamine and GABA require zinc. Dopamine has been defined as the molecular foundation of human attention (3), and GABA is equally critical for relaxation (4).

In spite of its strong taste, zinc sulfate is a very easily absorbed form of zinc. Megadoses are not only unnecessary, they could even be counterproductive (5). Taking the zinc without other vitamins and minerals, as was done in this study, also enhances its absorption.

However, zinc is not going to correct ADHD by itself. In terms of minerals, just think of the importance of magnesium, involved in at least 300 enzymes, that is even more deficient than zinc in today’s children (4). Magnesium is found mostly in green leafy vegetables.

1. Altern Med Rev 2003 Aug; 8 (3):319-30
2. BMC Psychiatry 2004, 4:9 The electronic version of this article is the complete one and can be found online at: www.biomedcentral.com/1471-244X/4/9 “Molecular Origins of Human Attention” by Richard Deth, Ph.D.
3. “Healing the Hyperactive Brain” by Michael Lyon, MD
4. Although zinc is a very safe supplement, long-term daily intake of 100 to 150 mg of zinc in adults has been associated with toxicity leading to immune system impairment and gastric distress. Toxic doses are relative to weight and could easily be exceeded in small children. See Present Knowledge in Nutrition, 7th edition, edited by E. Ziegler, p. 293 or similar text.

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