Fighting ADHD without drugs

You’ve probably noticed that attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been “re-branded” in the mainstream medical marketplace. Yep – it’s not just for kids anymore. If we’re to believe the ads, it seems that adults also have problems focusing on details and setting priorities.

adhd_vidWith so much media attention devoted to the popular ADHD drugs targeted at this expanding customer base, it’s rare to come across an ADHD study that doesn’t involve any drugs at all. And even more rare is a study that dares imply that a nutritional deficiency might actually play a role in attention deficit.

Against all odds, however, I found such a study. And while its design and methods are refreshingly drug-free, the dietary conclusion requires a closer look.

Bring on the kids

The study itself is simple enough. Knowing that iron deficiency may trigger abnormal neurotransmission, researchers at the European Pediatric Hospital in Paris, France, evaluated the deficiency of this mineral in two groups of adolescents.

As reported in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, blood samples from more than 50 kids between the ages of 4 and 14 years – all diagnosed with ADHD – were examined to determine ferritin levels. (Ferritin is a protein that stores iron.) The researchers also examined blood samples from a control group of nearly 30 kids with no symptoms of ADHD.

The French team reported three striking results:
  • The ADHD group had a lower average ferritin level compared to the control group.
  • Almost 85 percent of the ADHD kids had abnormal ferritin levels, compared to less than 20 percent of the control subjects.
  • The most severe ADHD symptoms were observed in kids with low ferritin levels.

In their conclusion, the researchers write that low iron stores may contribute to ADHD, and children with ADHD might benefit from iron supplementation.

The plus and the minus

I knew that HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., would find this study interesting. In the e-Alert “How to Dismantle an ’89 Ford” (6/3/02), Dr. Spreen wrote at some length about the ways nutrition directly affects kids’ behavior, particularly in regard to ADHD.

After looking over the French research, Dr. Spreen told me he thought the results were dependable, and described the study as “very helpful.” But he added: “Then again, there’s some reading between the lines that I would suggest.”

Dr. Spreen: “Unfortunately, it can be a bit more difficult than just giving iron in such a situation. One of the rubs comes in when you try to evaluate whether the problem is actually iron or could these kids be generally nutritionally deficient? No levels of any other nutrients were taken, so we have no idea at all if the problem is really iron or a plethora of nutrients. (My personal experience leads me to believe that such kids are generally trashed, nutritionally, besides just iron, which is all that ferritin measures.)”

The bigger picture

“Okay, so let’s say the problem is ironalone. Most of the solutions tend to be inorganic iron in supplement form (or, heaven forbid, by injection). First, it tends to be poorly absorbed, and second, such agents are well known to generate the formation of free radicals, molecules that damage cell membranes throughout the body. That’s why our bodies insulate us from our own iron by placing it within a heme ring (hemoglobin). We need the stuff for oxygen transfer, but we also need to be protected from it.

That’s why I recommend organic iron, as in calves liver (good luck getting THAT down a kid), or desiccated liver tablets.

“So the problem is STILL iron. Remember that, free radicals or not, it’s possible that the iron may not be absorbed well. I’ve had several patients who took iron (including painful injections) for laboratory-confirmed anemia (low iron levels) and still remained anemic!

When I threw in high levels of vitamin B-12 and folic acid (higher than the silly RDA), even if they were not clinically low in these nutrients, their iron levels normalized. That’s why I’ve learned to take a more ‘shotgun’ approach, even if I think I know what the actual problem is.

“Ah, but it gets better (or, maybe, worse): I don’t think correcting iron alone will do it (with or without B-12, folic acid, and maybe even digestive enzymes). If food allergies are not dealt with, if sugar and refined white flour are not massively lowered, if artificial additives are not eliminated (colors, flavors, MSG, preservatives, etc.), the changes from supplements could still fail to work properly.

“I FIRMLY believe ADHD is fixable without drugs of any kind in the VAST majority of cases.”

If you have a child, a grandchild or a friend who may have been diagnosed with ADHD, I strongly recommend Dr. Spreen’s nutritional tips for addressing this problem.

and another thing

Can your diet affect your joints?

A friend of mine with arthritis recently asked me if there were any foods she should stay away from that might aggravate her condition. And in fact there are some foods that can add to joint pain.

Many arthritis sufferers are highly sensitive to solanine, an alkaloid known for its toxicity. Solanine is found in plants called nightshade or deadly nightshade plants. Well known edible nightshade plants include tomatoes, potatoes, green and red peppers, eggplants, and cayenne.

Removing these solanine-rich foods from your diet may be a good first step toward eliminating dietary triggers of joint pain; a frequently overlooked element in the treatment of arthritis.

You can find out more about foods that contribute to arthritis symptoms in the HSI special report titled “Overcoming Arthritis: Hidden Causes and Permanent Solutions.” Use this link for more information: You don’t have to live with Arthritis Pain Anymore!

Obviously, a salad with tomatoes and green peppers isn’t going to be “deadly,” but arthritis patients may find some measure of relief with a reduced intake of nightshade foods.


“Iron Deficiency in Children With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder” Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, Vol. 158, No. 12, December 2004,