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ADHD Causes: Iron Deficiency

Medical doctors are quick to conclude that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is caused by a deficiency in neurotransmitters, and they don’t dig deeper to find out what is really causing the problem.  Deficiencies in key nutrients are one of the most common triggers for ADHD, and the latest studies show that children with ADHD are more likely to be iron-deficient than other children.   It makes sense – iron is necessary for the production of neurotransmitters, as well as the regulation of the activity of the neurotransmitter dopamine responsible for controlling movement and attention.   Iron deficiency is also one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world and among American children.   This could probably explain why a large number of American children experience behavioral problems related to ADHD, such as hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Who is at risk for iron deficiencies?

Iron deficiency issues may start as early as pregnancy. If the mother does not have enough iron in her body, the embryo in utero may experience intrauterine growth retardation, and an increased risk of childbirth complication. Babies who drink cow’s milk instead of breast milk are also at risk for iron deficiencies.  Not only does cow’s milk contain very low levels of iron, the iron available in cow’s milk is poorly absorbed by the body. Breast milk is always an excellent source of iron, assuming that the mother has enough iron in her body.

Other groups at high risk for iron deficiencies are teenagers, due to poor eating habits and rapid growth rates, and menstruating women, because menstrual bleeding depletes the body’s stores of iron.

What happens to children who have iron deficiencies?

Because iron is critical to the regulation and production of neurotransmitter activity, children with low iron stores experience behavioral problems as well as learning disabilities. Researchers have linked iron deficiency in infants to delayed brain development and poor school performance in childhood.  In animals, iron deficiencies are related to restlessness and abnormal muscle movements.  In 2004, a study done in France discovered that the children with the lowest iron stores also tested as the most hyperactive, impulsive, and inattentive.  The researchers of this study concluded that iron deficiencies may explain as many as 30% of ADHD cases. 

Other symptoms of iron deficiency include depression, craving for non-foods, difficulty sleeping, and an enhanced risk for toxicity.  Children with low iron stores can easily absorb metals other than iron, which means their bodies can absorb more mercury, lead, and cadmium.  Researchers have also shown that children with low iron often have high blood levels of lead. Notice how these symptoms often lead to behaviors or situations that will aggravate the symptoms of ADHD even more.

Can iron supplements help?

Very few studies have been done on the effect of iron administration in children with ADHD, and researchers still need to explore the link between iron and ADHD.  In a study done in Israel, researchers gave iron supplements to 14 boys with ADHD for 30 days.  At the end of the experiment, their parents found a significant improvement in their children’s behavior; however, the teachers did not notice any improvement.  In another study, 33 iron-deficient but normal schoolchildren received iron supplements. The researchers discovered that they became less hyperactive after the experiment, suggesting that hyperactive behavior may be reversible if the iron deficiency is treated. 

Like any other treatment for ADHD, iron supplements are not the universal cure for the disorder even if they have helped some children.  And don’t just go about giving your child iron supplements if you don’t have proof that an iron deficiency is present. Excess iron in the body is not only toxic, it stays in the system for a long time and can aggravate other neurological problems. In the UnRitalin Solution protocol, we usually perform blood tests to see whether the child really does have an iron deficiency. If so, you can supplement with iron.