Supplements in ADHD Treatment

If you know any families that have children with ADHD you know how difficult it is to manage.  The medications have side effects, are expensive and difficult to use, and don’t always control symptoms well.  Is it any wonder there is such a big demand for supplements in ADHD treatment?

Families of kids with ADHD are desperate for treatments that work and are safe.  Fortunately there is good evidence for two supplements in ADHD treatment.

There is a well-written review I came across while looking up something for a patient.  Since I have so many readers with family members struggling with ADHD I thought I would summarize the review for you.

Basically there are only two supplements whose use has been proven to help children with ADHD.  Many, many supplements have been promoted for use to help with ADHD but the evidence is thin to nonexistent about their benefit.  Let’s talk about the two useful ones, then I’ll quickly go through the ones that need more investigation.


Omega-3 supplements have very good evidence to show they help children with ADHD   The American diet is very heavy on omega-6 fatty acids and when the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids isn’t properly balanced it can interfere with lots of different body functions.  Omega-6 fatty acids tend to be pro-inflammatory and omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory.

The component of fish oil that seems to be effective for ADHD symptoms is eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).  Fish oil supplements vary widely in their content of EPA.  For instance, Shaklee’s OmegaGuard contains 363 mg EPA per two-capsule serving.  Nature Made’s burpless fish oil capsules have 180 mg EPA per two-capsule serving.  Carlson’s lemon-flavor liquid fish oil supplement contains 800 mg EPA per teaspoon.

I’ve written elsewhere that fish oil is healthy for everyone to take.  If you have a child with ADHD this is definitely one to add to their daily regimen.  Make sure to get as much EPA as possible, since that seems to be what is helpful for ADHD.


Melatonin is used to help patients fall asleep.  It is a hormone produced in the pineal gland.  Production goes down when it is light out, and goes up when it gets dark.  It regulates our sleep-wake cycle.

Sleep disturbances are common in children with ADHD.  Melatonin has been studied for its ability to help children with ADHD fall asleep, sleep longer, sleep better, and manage their ADHD symptoms better.

Melatonin has been shown to be effective for helping children with ADHD fall asleep more easily.  However, the evidence for helping them sleep longer and better is not very strong.  And there is no evidence for melatonin helping kids with ADHD symptoms other than trouble falling asleep.

I found mention of a concern about children taking melatonin regularly having trouble with delayed onset of puberty.  It is known that in other mammals like rats, melatonin plays a role in the onset of sexual maturation, and administering melatonin to young animals can delay this onset.  However I was not able to find any studies addressing whether children using melatonin regularly are more likely to start puberty later than children who don’t take melatonin.  There certainly is no evidence of an ABNORMALLY late start to puberty in such children.


Many other nutritional supplements are promoted to be helpful with managing ADHD.  Supplements such as iron, zinc and magnesium may be helpful in patients with documented deficiencies or dietary problems like malabsorption.  Ginkgo biloba has a modest effect, much less than that of medications, and has some serious side effects such as increased bleeding tendency.  Carnitine and St. John’s Wort are no better than placebo.

In summary, in spite of all the marketing hype around supplements for ADHD, there is really very little evidence that any but a few are effective.  If your child has ADHD they should definitely be on a high-quality fish oil supplement that gives them plenty of EPA.  If they have trouble falling asleep then a trial of melatonin would be reasonable with the approval of their doctor.

Until more research is published to show effectiveness of other supplements, unfortunately there is little reason to spend money on other supplements specifically to address ADHD.

QUESTION:  Do you have kids in your life struggling with ADHD?  Was this post helpful for you?


5 thoughts on “Supplements in ADHD Treatment

  1. Interesting review Jennifer. I am a big fan of Omega 3 for all things neurological. The one area I see missing in this discussion is B complex. There are innumerable testimonials on the benefits of B Complex and ADHD. (Several implying that B Complex – the energy vitamins- easily replace the stimulant Ritalin)

    • I see some references to pyridoxine (B6) but not to B complex. Can you point me to the references you’ve seen? Testimonials are one thing, but I was specifically addressing published scientific research in this post. Thanks, Lee! And I agree, repleting the B vitamins can only help with stress management and attention in these kiddos 🙂

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