Posts shared on social media claim that eight nutrients “reverse” attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) “according to researchers”.
The specific “nutrients” listed in the post are probiotics, vitamins B6 and B12, fish oil, calcium, magnesium, zinc and Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABA).
Although ADHD can be treated, for example with medication or therapy, ADHD cannot currently be cured or reversed.
While there have been studies into the effects of supplements on ADHD, there is not conclusive proof that they reduce symptoms and certainly no evidence they can “reverse” the condition.
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What do we know about ADHD and diet?
The NHS says that the symptoms of ADHD can be categorised into two issues: difficulty concentrating, and hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
Dr Alexander Häge, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany, who is researching the effects of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) on ADHD symptoms in adolescents, told Full Fact: “There is some evidence (a few good clinical trials/ RCTs) that this may be helpful in treating ADHD, but the results are inconsistent.
“The statement that there is evidence that the supplements mentioned below could cure/’reverse’ ADHD is definitely false.”
Dr Alejandro Arias Vásquez, an associate professor at Radboud University Medical Center, based in the Netherlands, and scientific coordinator of Eat2beNICE, a medical consortium that studies how lifestyle, nutrition, genetics, and gut microbes contribute to mental health, also told us that the claims in the Facebook post are “unsupported by scientific data”.
He said: “At this moment the evidence suggests a potential relationship between diet and ADHD. This relationship is still based solely in statistical results and does not support any claim of curing or reversing ADHD.…”
He added: “ADHD is not reversible nor can [it] be cured.”
Andrea Bilbow, CEO of the National Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service (ADDISS) described the claims in the post as “misinformation” and said: “As far as I am aware there are no nutrients that can reverse ADHD.”
What about the nutrients in the post?
The NHS says: “Some studies have suggested that supplements of omega-3 [found in oily fish] and omega-6 fatty acids [found in vegetable oils] may be beneficial for people with ADHD, although the evidence supporting this is very limited.”
This is based on information published by the Association of British Dieticians, who say: “A number of studies show positive benefits to omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, with improvements seen in behaviour and reading ability [in children with ADHD].”
In one article published in 2021, researchers from the Medical University of Warsaw reviewed the available studies which investigated gut microbiota [the millions of microorganisms which live in the human gut] and probiotic therapy [taking probiotic supplements] in ADHD. They said: “Numerous studies show that probiotic supplementation can have a positive effect on the course of neurodevelopmental disorders, including ADHD.
“Unfortunately, clinical studies that were identified are mostly inconclusive, and more high-quality research is needed to produce robust evidence for therapy based on interventions targeting microbiota.”
Some very small studies have found that children with ADHD who were given vitamin B6 showed some improvements in their symptoms. A Turkish study of 100 children with ADHD concluded that vitamin B12 “may be useful in treatment of childhood ADHD, especially for learning problems, besides medication”.
An article published in the journal Children looked at iron, magnesium, vitamin D, and zinc deficiencies in children presenting with symptoms of ADHD. It concluded: “Although it is not definitively clear the percentage of children presenting with symptoms of ADHD who have nutrient deficiencies, the existing literature suggests that a subgroup of children with ADHD are at risk for nutrient deficiencies which may play a role in symptomology.”
Calcium has also been included in studies looking at the role of supplements in improving ADHD symptoms, but there is very little information available on its specific potential benefits.
Researchers have reported a link between low levels of GABA in children with ADHD when compared to children without ADHD, though it is not clear that supplements of GABA improve symptoms.
Professor Grainne McAlonan, a specialist in translational neuroscience at King's College London told Full Fact that it “really does not make sense” that GABA in oral supplement form could “reverse” ADHD, as it does not pass through the blood brain barrier [a boundary which allows only certain substances to cross from the bloodstream into the brain in order to protect it from toxins].”
She told Full Fact: “Blanket unsupported set[s] of statements are not helpful and are irresponsible… A good diet is good for general good health, let alone ADHD.”
She added: “This kind of pseudoscientific stuff is not always harmless.
“Moreover, ADHD is not necessarily something that needs to be ‘reversed’.”
Image courtesy of Sharon McCutcheon