Micronutrients and ADHD symptoms – focus, attention and regulation

The role of Micronutrients in helping symptoms of ADHD is significant but often missed! Micronutrients can help picky eating, digestion, focus, attention and so much more.

Here’s a short dive into the many ways micronutrients can help you child, and when they may not work. In conventional nutrition, we often talk about MACRO nutrients: which are fats, carbs and protein. But there is so much more nuance to our diet.

As you navigate and take notes from this podcast, I would encourage you to check out the Linus Pauling Micronutrient Information Center maintained by Oregon State University for some detailed information on each of these different vitamins and minerals.

Micronutrients are involved in formation and balance of neurotrasmitters. Zinc deficiency specifically can cause increased risk of excito-toxicity, and is correlated with low focus and hyperactivity – classic ADHD symptoms.

Several studies has proven the efficacy of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) in the improvement of focus, attention and improved eating. MICRONUTRIENTS HELP. So if you aren’t taking them, it might be time to consider looking into taking a supplement or getting sufficient from food. Check with your PCP.

In functional nutrition, we aren’t just talking about what you eat. We are talking about what your body and biochemistry can do with what you eat. Micronutrient deficiency might be a key player in focus, etc. but simply dosing micronutrients is not enough. Are you absorbing these micronutrients. What is the health of your child’s gut. Can they absorb these nutrients? All it takes is an inflamed gut and low stomach acid to not be able to absorb nutrients despite consuming supplements.

It would be remiss of me to miss functional super foods that can often help enormously while you are still working on your child’s gut. Case in point Functional Mushrooms (you HAVE to listen to this podcast about functional mushrooms)!

To summarize, we have to simultaneously prioritize nutrient rich food, phytonutrients, and a healthy gut in order to be able to absorb these nutrients. But there’s more, so listen on …



Listen On



Disclaimer: The information in this Podcast is for educational purposes only. Vaishnavi Sarathy, Ph.D. is an educator, not a doctor, specifically not your child’s doctor. Please consult your physician before implementing any supplement or diet recommendations.

Audio Transcription:


Hello, and welcome to functional nutrition for kids, your go-to podcast for everything that food does to your gut, gut does to your brain, and so on. This is podcast number 11. And I know I said there would be 12 in our series about focus and hyperactivity, but I am adding a 13th podcast as a summary or review or action item list, etc. Now, there’s so many of you tune in every week, and I’m so grateful that you choose to listen to this podcast. I would love to know exactly what interests you and how I can support you in learning more about these areas. So please, please please drop me a note, either on my Facebook page, which is facebook.com/functionalnutritionforkids, or just send me an email advice the vaish at functionalnutritionforkids.com. Now to jump right to the topic of micronutrients and brain health.

In podcast one we said that food is the single most frequent intervention our body receives. Food along with proper digestion, absorption and metabolism can affect and cure nutrient deficiencies, calm inflammation, optimize digestion, and therefore boost focus and energy. Because it is the single most frequent intervention, poor food can also cause inflammation, and damaged tissue. It can cause nutrient deficiencies, increase hyperactivity, and so much more.

Today, we’re going to focus on understanding nutrient deficiencies through the lens of functional nutrition. And perhaps you will understand a little bit more about functional nutrition through the lens of nutrient deficiencies. Now, the conventional view of food is as a provider of macronutrients, so I’m going to give you a brief overview of macronutrients in order to set the stage for micronutrients. In nutrition in conventional nutrition, often, when you’re talking about food, you’re talking about calories, you’re talking about carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, which are your three major macronutrients. So let’s very briefly discuss the role of these macros. Now all of them are sources of energy that our body can use, right? Fat is the most concentrated source of energy of the three and also the most vilified.

Fats are important for cell structure and make up most of the cell membrane. In fact, our brain is made primarily of fats. Now, unless you can digest fats efficiently, something that is getting increasingly uncommon, you can’t absorb fat-soluble vitamins, for example, vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin K, right, this vitamin D and K are critical to the distribution of calcium and therefore bone structure. Also for heart health. Vitamin D is super important for immune function, and is one of the most critical vitamins in our body slash hormone.

Proteins can also be a source of energy, but more importantly, are essential for almost every reaction that happens in your body. enzymes are proteins, some hormones are proteins. Proteins make up the antibodies which are the figurative army of your immune system. Almost all foods contain some proteins now are very popular carbohydrates are usually the most prominent energy source for most people, especially in most traditional cultures. This is the case they come from grains, vegetables and fruit, but grains because perhaps of the value in storage are the most common and concentrated source of carbs. Now the thing with carbohydrates is that when you source them from a whole food, they are fantastically accompanied by trace minerals like zinc, iron and B vitamins by fiber by phytonutrients, such as antioxidants and flavonoids.

Now, this is more common in vegetables than in grains, but that’s a complicated discussion and for another podcast. Let’s now jump into the world of micronutrients for which we are here. micronutrients, the much neglected micronutrients are the list of all vitamins and essential minerals. The word mineral as used in nutrition, according to the Linus Pauling Institute, refers to elements that originate from the earth and cannot be made by us. The minerals in our diet come directly from plant sources which assimilate them from the soil. Now animal foods can also have minerals, but they come indirectly because they come because they consume plants. So what are your minerals if you break them into metals and nonmetals in your periodic table, if you can visualize it right now, the the metallic minerals are calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc Iron, molybdenum, potassium, selenium, and sodium. And the non metallic forms are fluoride fluoride forms of iodine and forms of phosphorus. We’re going to take these micronutrients and discuss them in a particular context today.

Focus and hyperactivity. This is because there’s been some new and exciting research that micronutrient supplementation can positively impact symptoms of ADHD. Now, honestly, this research isn’t very new, there’s been research on micronutrient supplementation and attention, focus and hyperactivity since the beginning of the century. But the research is coming out in higher numbers now. And it’s very interesting. Now, while I was hunting for, you know, credible research on this topic, I came across one very satisfying article from the Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, from 2017. Now, when I say satisfying, I like studies that end with a concrete result, too often double-blind, double-blind studies will give you a result that you can’t really take and apply into clinical practice.

This study quotes, this study says that and I quote, micronutrients, improved overall function, reduced impairment, and improved inattention, emotional regulation, and aggression, but not hyperactive, or impulsive system symptoms in this sample of children with ADHD, although direct benefit for core ADHD symptoms was modest, the low rate of adverse effects and benefits and benefits reported across multiple areas of functioning indicate that micronutrients may be a favorable option for some children, particularly those with both ADHD and emotional dysregulation. Now, there’s also the British Journal of Psychiatry, there’s a study in 2014, they published a similar article, but the research this time was on adults, and they studied at adults, they found that there was significant differences in the groups that were receiving micronutrients and the group’s at the group receiving a placebo. And the conclusion of this study was that, in quotes, this study provides preliminary evidence of the efficacy of micronutrients in the treatment of ADHD symptoms in adults with reassuring safety profile. And quote, We all love to hear that right. Now, there’s many, many more studies.

I’m not going to list them all. But there are two things to take away from this. The first is that micronutrients help, this is a no brainer. And it’s fantastic. And I wish it was discussed much more than it is, given the fact that these studies are not new. But some of them are, but they’re not all new, and that they are frequent. I would hope that if you went to for help to your PCP, for to your child’s PCP with respect to help with learning, or focus, or hyperactivity issues for your child, I would hope that you would be asked what they were eating, I would hope that they would be given a lab test to check for micronutrient deficiencies and if needed, their diet would be adjusted, which I understand is not within the scope of your PCP, but at least a micronutrient supplement would be prescribed, but this is generally not the case.

However, not only is there research, but this knowledge is commonplace, at least in Nutritional Biochemistry. I think the percolation perhaps hasn’t happened. For example, if you take the example of zinc and copper that there levels can influence dopamine levels in the brain. Now you know that the neurotransmitter dopamine is considered with some debate, okay, as a possible primary driving factor in ADHD. Now, B vitamins and minerals like zinc and magnesium are cofactors in the production of nearly all neurotransmitters, they’re also super important for modulating the levels of neurotransmitters. Zinc deficiency specifically can include can cause increased risk of excitotoxicity or neural which can lead to neuronal death. Lower dopamine levels sync and cause lower dopamine levels and is correlated with low focus and hyperactivity.

So what am I trying to say micronutrients help? And the second thing that comes across from these studies is that the results were modest on average, some people responded, Well, some people responded so so some people did not respond, even though statistically on an average people did respond. I did say that there’s several other studies some show that supplementation improved hyperactivity, but not attention and some show that supplementation improved attention, but not hyperactivity. What is this mean? I am not going to go into the details of the study or the variables that were used or not used in the study, though a little bit we’ll talk about that.

When we consider this variation, how can we look at this from the lens of functional nutrition, which is my job. In functional nutrition, we’re not just talking about what you eat. We’re not talking about what supplements you eat. We’re not just talking about that. We’re talking about what your body what your biochemistry can do with what you eat both with respect to food and supplementation. As my mentor Andrea Nakayama likes to say, you’re not just what you eat, you’re what your body can do with what you eat. So that means that while it’s clear that micron micronutrient deficiency is a key player, among other players in the individual biochemistry of a child or adult with ADHD, even as we zoom in on this particular idea, we must remember that simply dosing micronutrients is not enough. Are you absorbing these nutrients? What is that mean? And what does it take?

Most all micronutrients in the body are absorbed in the small intestine. Some of them need biochemical prep work or biotransformation to be absorbed in the small intestine. For example, let’s take vitamin B 12, which comes to us primarily from animal sources. Now, B 12 needs both sufficient stomach acid and a val functioning pancreas to be in its most absorbable form. And finally, an intact alien which is a section of your small intestine to be actually absorbed. And this is why in cases of significant deficiency are in order to achieve therapeutic results. Some functional practitioners will use
injections to bypass the digestive system. Can you see how you might be eating the best diet which itself is a rare scenario these days are having your micronutrients but not absorbing them optimally? All it takes is an inflamed gut and low stomach acid.

Not sufficient stomach acid also isn’t as common as you would expect. Some of the signs that you don’t have stomach acid or liver issues, constipation, frequent gut infections, bloating, burping, especially stomach acid reflux, add to this intestinal inflammation and honestly, it might not matter how nutrient-rich you eat if you’re not absorbing it well. The process of evaluating and optimizing digestion, absorption, assimilation, metabolic some of the food you eat, forms the backbone of function nutrition, we then have to simultaneously prioritize nutrient-rich meals that can not just give you single doses of nutrients, but encase them in a naturally occurring complex of phytonutrients along with making sure that you can digest and absorb them. Now if we had to summarize what have we said micronutrients are critical for healthy neurotransmitter levels and function.

They are cofactors in numerous enzymatic reactions in your body, and often structural components of these enzymes themselves. We don’t get enough micronutrients in our diet. For one our soil is depleted for another our food is processed and stripped of these nutrients. And finally, we’re surrounded by inflammatory environmental and dietary factors. If your child is focus issues, hyperactivity or other neurological issues, side quote, remember that most diagnoses that are labeled learning disabilities are likely neurological in nature.

So if your child has these issues, this may be a good time to consider micronutrients primarily from food, but perhaps also from supplementation. Favor naturally occurring colored foods like green sweet potatoes, pumpkin seeds, very you’re not seeds, and veggies. You’ve already heard this right eat your veggies. I love Dr. Terry’s walls, his recommendation of nine cups of veggies bar colored fruits, especially in the context of autoimmunity. And if you’ve not heard a TEDx talk, just Google TEDx and Teddy walls, it is a phenomenal talk worth hearing, as her book worth reading. Finally, check your child’s gut health. While seeing a functional practitioner is a good idea. Some indicators of sub-optimal health are mood issues, poop, issues, bloating, and gas. Now if I have to leave you with three action items, which I’ve already done, but to put it in a more structured faction like I like to do to make this very concrete and actionable, they would be one. Eat a diverse variety of anti-inflammatory foods, especially vegetables. In the plant, world nutrients follow color.

Supplement number two supplement with a high-quality micro micronutrient complex if needed. Remember food before supplements now in the context of supplementation, micronutrient testing is not common and you probably have to ask your functional practitioner for it. If your child is struggling with focus and hyperactivity, this is probably a good idea. Number three works on gut health. This can be a blanket statement for most people given the nature of the brain-gut connection. impairments in neurological function and impairments in gut function occur together. In my practice, I have very rarely seen someone who does not need to work on their cut. Episode Six with Dr. Erica Pearson explores some key areas of gut health and I will be sure to include more in future podcasts. Thank you so much for tuning in. If you have any questions or comments, the place to return, you know is facebook.com/functionalnutritionforkids. I can’t wait to read the final episode of the focus series episode number 13 about the microbiome next. Goodbye.



Micronutrients and their role in focus, regulation and attention