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ADHD Natural Remedies: Iron

Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the world. In the United States alone, as many as 8-13% of American schoolchildren suffer from this deficiency.  Most parents know that iron deficiencies can lead to anemia, but they don’t know that iron deficiency can also be a trigger for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.  In fact, some studies have shown that up to 75% of children with ADHD have problems with iron metabolism. Iron is a co-enzyme needed to synthesize neurotransmitters, and is responsible for regulating the activity of dopamine. This explains the relationship between iron deficiency and neurological problems like depression, poor memory, and the symptoms of ADHD.  

Studies have shown that a high percentage of children with ADHD are iron deficient, and that supplementing helped reduce some of the symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention.   Two studies done in Israel evaluated children with ADHD for the short-term effect of iron supplements on their behavior.  After receiving iron supplements for 30 days, parents and teachers observed less hyperactive behavior among the children.  It seems as though children with ADHD Hyperactive type are more likely to have iron deficiencies than children with other types, and there may be a chance that your child might have a higher iron requirement than normal.  The problem is that you can’t give iron supplements without being absolutely sure of an iron deficiency. 

Even though iron plays an important role in many chemical functions, too much iron can damage the body.  Iron exists in two forms: the ferric form, where iron atoms bond with three electrons, and the ferrous form, where iron atoms bond with two electrons.  Since iron can easily switch between the two forms, it is an essential component of hemoglobin, the oxygen transport protein of red blood cells.  However, its ability to switch forms also makes iron an oxidant.  When iron atoms are not bound to hemoglobin and other carrier proteins, it travels in the body as free iron and can cause damage to tissues.  To make things worse, most of the iron in the body is recycled, because the excretory system has difficulties eliminating excess iron.  This means that once there is too much iron in the body, it stays there for a very long time, which can aggravate or cause other neurological problems as well.

If you suspect that your ADHD child may have an iron deficiency, have him or her tested via a mineral blood test or a serum ferritin test. Both tests can determine how much iron is stored by the body. If a deficiency is found, it can be treated by adding more iron-rich foods to your child’s diet.  Opt for foods containing heme iron, like meats, fish, and poultry, because these are better absorbed by the body than non-heme iron found in whole grains, legumes, and iron-fortified foods.  Other foods that contain iron include clams, sardines, liver, spinach, apricots, dates, soy, and prunes.  Before supplementing your child’s diet with iron-rich foods, consult the advice of a nutritionist to make sure that you do not give more iron than the recommended daily allowance for your child’s age group. Iron dosage should be around 8-10 mg.