ADHD is a chronic neurodevelopmental disorder that affects approximately 5% of children, placing them at higher risk of academic failure, occupational issues, substance abuse, criminal activity, and continual psychiatric problems in adulthood.
This was the first fully blinded RCT of non-medicated children with ADHD (aged seven to 12).
The team behind it was led by clinical psychologist Professor Julia Rucklidge from the University of Canterbury, and included researchers from the university's Department of Psychology, the Canterbury District Health Board, the University of Otago, and the Oregon Health and Science University.
The 10-week trial involved 93 subjects divided into two groups: one was administered either a broad spectrum of micronutrients (13 vitamins, 17 minerals, and four amino acids), and the other a placebo.
The researchers noted that there was a higher prevalence of Generalised Anxiety Disorder in the micronutrient group (30%) compared with the placebo group (7%).
After 10 weeks, the researchers observed that the children who had been given micronutrients showed more improvement in terms of aggression, emotional regulation, and overall function than the children who had taken the placebo.
The researchers stated: "Micronutrients improved aggression and dysregulated mood, with effect sizes ranging from 0.35 to 0.66. These measures tapped into behaviours including hot tempers, fights with other children, explosive angry outbursts, and moods changing rapidly for no reason."
These improvements were consistent across the three raters employed in the trial: clinician, parent and teacher.
In fact, twice as many of the children in the micronutrient group showed a 'clinically significant improvement' in emotional dysregulation, compared to the placebo group (41% versus 20%).
A viable alternative
Rucklidge said this showed how families' quality of life could be improved and how behavioural problems could be alleviated by a simple intervention for children with ADHD.
"It's an intervention that addresses debilitating symptoms in children that often lead to poor long-term outcomes for them.
She added, "Irritable, angry and moody children can be extremely difficult to parent. Our research has shown that nutrients can reduce the intensity and frequency of these problems in children with ADHD.
"While the children still displayed some hyperactivity and impulsivity on micronutrients, they were less anxious, slept better, their appetites were not suppressed, and their attention improved."
Micronutrient treatment offers a viable alternative to pharmacological treatments, which, while able to reduce ADHD symptoms, also leads to side effects and failure to prevent or alter long-term course. They are also likely to be discontinued, depending on the preferences of patients and their families.
The paper concluded: "In addition to conferring the symptom improvements, the micronutrients were safe and well-tolerated over the course of the 10-week trial and as such, they may have an important role in the treatment of childhood ADHD, particularly in cases where conventional stimulant medication is not viable, either due to ineffectiveness, poor tolerability or parental preference."
Source: Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
“Vitamin-mineral treatment improves aggression and emotional regulation in children with ADHD: a fully blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled trial”
Authors: Julia J. Rucklidge, et al.