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Iron Deficiency and ADHD

Is there a connection between iron deficiency and ADHD? Let’s find out.
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Studies have proved that nearly 8% of children aged 4 years and below, have iron deficiency. This percentage rises to 13% in children aged between 5 and 12; and then settles back to 8% in individuals above the age of 15. 

Anemia is the common repercussion of iron deficiency. Even minor iron deficiency may affect the thyroid, weaken the immune system, and mess up with physical performance. 

It has also been implicated in several neurological and psychiatric conditions, including ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder) and learning disabilities. 

The link between iron deficiency and ADHD should be considered if you have a child with ADHD symptoms. You can support ADHD treatment by giving iron supplements to your child. 

Lack of certain minerals such as zinc, magnesium, and iron can stimulate impulsiveness, carelessness, and hyperactivity in kids. 

Thus, adequate amount of iron consumption is essential to improve neurological conditions, including the ADHD and other learning disorders. 

Iron and the Human Body

Iron is an essential mineral in humans because it is needed for the proper formation and functioning of red blood cells.

Healthy people usually have 4 – 5 grams of iron stored up with 2.5 grams of that found in the hemoglobin of red blood cells. Therefore, iron deficiency is directly caused by extensive blood loss or anemia.

Most of the iron in the body is stored up until it is needed. This is because iron is a toxic mineral. Therefore, only a small amount of iron is found in the plasma either bound to transferrin or freely circulating.

Iron is also found bound with proteins in the serum. In this form it is known as ferritin. While some researchers measure ferritin levels to determine the extent of iron deficiency in ADHD subjects, other researchers have argued that serum ferritin level is not a true measure of iron deficiency and also not a good diagnostic tool for ADHD.

The human body enforces a tight regulation of iron absorption and excretion. For example, as aged red blood cells break down, the body recycles their iron content.

However, some iron is still lost daily in sweats, shed skin cells and from the mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal tract.

To make up for this loss, the body absorbs a little iron from diets and supplements.

Dietary sources of iron include both plants and animals. Some of these sources are beans, pistachios, leafy vegetables, lentils, poultry, red meat and fortified foods.

Iron deficiency is mostly found in children and premenopausal women. For these women, the main reason is the regular blood loss during menstruation. For children, iron deficiency is caused by both increased demand for the mineral and also nutritional deficiency.

Because some of the symptoms of iron deficiency and ADHD overlap, scientists believe the same parts of the central nervous system are affected by both medical conditions.

Some of the shared symptoms of ADHD and iron deficiency are fatigue, restlessness and irritability.

How It Works 

Iron acts like a co-enzyme in the anabolism of catecholamines. That implies it is necessary for the formation of certain neurotransmitters. 

It also helps to control the activity of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which most likely accounts for the connection of iron deficiency with neurological conditions. 

Thus, it makes sense that supplementing children with ADHD, having iron deficiency might alleviate their attention deficit symptoms. 

Another link between iron and ADHD (besides the mineral’s effect on dopamine activity in the brain) is its protective ability especially against heavy metal poisoning.

Iron reduces the absorption of such heavy metals like lead, cadmium and mercury. Lead is of particular interest because lead poisoning is relatively common.

Lead can cross into the brain and modify the activities of the dopaminergic pathway. This means that lead can reduce both the amount of dopamine released in the brain as well inhibit the dopamine receptors.

Secondly, when lead crosses into the brain, it destroys part of the blood-brain barrier and, in this way, allows substances not meant for the brain to cross over.

Iron, however, is known to provide just the opposite effect on the blood-brain barrier. Iron protects the integrity of this barrier and can help reverse the damaging effects of lead.

Therefore, iron has a neuroprotective effect on the central nervous system. ADHD children with iron deficiency are likelier to have their conditions worsened by lead poisoning.

You may consider using ADHD supplements, such as Listol, that contain iron, to alleviate attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults and children.

Case Studies of Children with ADHD 

A study conducted in Israel has shown promising results. It involved fourteen boys with ADHD symptoms for short-term iron administration on behavior. The boys received iron supplements daily for 30 days. 

After a period of 30-days, both parents and teachers of the children assessed their behavior. Parents noticed remarkable improvements in their behavior. 

This study suggests that hyperactive and careless behavior can be treated if the child's iron deficiency is rectified. 

Another study included 33 iron-deficient, but otherwise normal children. Each child was given an iron supplement and then examined by parents and teachers. 

The kids became less hyperactive. Thus, the study suggested that iron deficiency might cause hyperactive behavior in some children, and this behavior is reversible when the deficiency is treated. 

A third study involved a group of teen-aged high school girls who were found to be iron deficient. These girls were treated with iron supplementation for 8 weeks. 

After the 8-week study, the researchers discovered that girls who received iron supplementation performed better on memory tests and verbal learning than those who did not. 

As none of the studies were double-blind studies, we cannot really rely on the results. However, these studies suggest that ADHD symptoms can be alleviated with iron supplementation. 

Apart from behavioral problems, children with an iron deficiency are also at great risk for absorbing toxins. 

It has been found that children with low iron levels can easily absorb heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, and mercury. 

Toxicologists have also noticed an association between iron deficiency and high blood levels of lead in kids. 

Though the relation between iron deficiency and ADHD seems to have been determined to some extent, very few researchers have considered using it to treat the condition. 

If you suspect that your child might have an iron deficiency, get a blood test done to determine the mineral content and consult a doctor for the proper dosage. 

Iron Supplementation for ADHD

It is important to note that not everyone diagnosed with ADHD has iron deficiency. Iron supplements should only be used in ADHD patients with measurable deficiency of the mineral. This is because too much iron is potentially toxic.

Although the body has its means to regulating iron absorption, iron overload can still cause some damage. For one, too much iron can destroy the linings of the gastrointestinal tract.

Too much iron circulating in the blood can also damage internal organs such as the heart and liver.

Iron supplements are only advised for ADHD patients in cases where not enough can be obtained from dietary sources. When taking iron supplements, care should be taken and the iron levels in the body should be monitored.