Treating ADD with Brain Boosting Nutrients


By Leslie Rouder, LCSW

Although it is believed that treating ADD with proper medication and some form of counseling is the most effective treatment modality that we know of, it is also true that medication is not effective for all people.  According to Edward Hallowell, MD, medication may not be effective for as much as 20% of the population.  In addition, medication is not a cure for ADD and should be used in conjunction with other natural treatment modalities such as exercise and nutrients.  This article will focus on several of the most recommended nutrients in the management of ADD and its symptoms. Remember to always check with your physician before starting any treatment modality in which you are ingesting natural herbs or supplements to avoid any conflicts with other supplements or medication you may be taking.

Food and the ADD Brain 

Always eat balanced meals that include protein, fruits, vegetables, and fiber rich carbohydrates such as whole grain and wheat products.  Eating protein in combination with these other nutrients reduces surges in blood sugar levels which lead to hunger, inattention and hyperactively. Protein rich foods include fish, lean beef, pork, eggs, dairy and soy and are vital in the production of neurotransmitters, which are the chemicals used by the brain’s cells to communicate with each other.

Vitamin Supplements

Multivitamin/mineral supplement

I personally believe that eating a healthy balanced diet is the best way to get all the necessary nutrients that one needs, but if you are unsure if you or your child are eating a fully balanced diet, supplementing with a good multivitamin/mineral can help. If you are giving chewable vitamins to your child, make sure they don’t have artificial ingredients or sugars in them, since this may increase levels of hyperactivity in some individuals.  Hero’s Yummy Bears Multi-Vitamin and Mineral is an example of one such product that you might try.

Omegas -3s 

Omega-3s are one of the most important supplements in treating the ADD brain. I recommend fish oil to all of my clients and take NKO Krill oil every day myself. Omegas -3s are found in cold water fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines and studies have shown that individuals who lack this nutrient show deficits in cognitive functioning and ability to focus.  Other good products recommended by various experts in the field include Nordic Naturals, OmegaBrite and Zone Labs.  Barleans Omega Swirl smoothie is recommended for children or individuals that have difficulty swallowing pills.

 B Vitamins 

According to Richard Brown, M.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, dopamine levels in the brain are increased with the use of vitamin B-6.  It is believed that increased levels of dopamine in the brain assist in higher levels of attentiveness.  Supplement with B-6 or a high quality B vitamin formula (such as B-complex) that has adequate levels of B-6.  Bio-Strath is one formula that is available both in liquid and pill form and Enzymatic Daily Energy B complex is another excellent product that I recommend and take on a daily basis.


Picamilon is a supplement that has shown to improve blood flow to the brain and acts as a mild stimulant.  It is a combination of niacin and gamma-aminobutyric acid and B-vitamins and is shown to improve alertness in both children and adults according to Dr. Brown.


Once again I would like to emphasize that a good balanced diet is the most beneficial and safe way to increase levels of vital minerals, however taking a good multi vitamin/mineral supplement can help if needed. Magnesium, zinc and iron are the three most important minerals in relationship to ADD.Magnesium has been shown to have a calming effect on the brain, while low levels of zinc have shown to decrease alertness and the ability to focus.  This is due to the correlation of lower dopamine levels and adequate amounts of zinc.  In addition, it has been determined that the effects of methylphenidate (also known as Ritalin) are increased by the supplementation of zinc. Increased levels of dopamine are also affected by adequate amounts of iron. There have been several studies that indicate deficits in cognitive functioning and increased ADHD symptoms associated with low iron levels.


I will caution anyone before using herbal remedies to check with their physician, as herbs are more potent than vitamin or mineral supplements and should be used under supervision. That having been said, the herbs most recommended by Dr. Brown are Ginkgo and Ginseng (which act as stimulants),Pycnogenol (which improves hyperactivity, focus, and visual-motor coordination according to several double blind studies) and Rhodiola Rosea (shown to improve alertness, attention and accuracy).  Caution should be used with young children in regard to Rhodiola Rosea due to its highly stimulating effects.  However, it is recommended for students attending junior high school and up to college who need help in focusing for long periods of time while performing academic tasks such as studying and/or writing term papers.

Pycnogenol can be purchased at Nature’s Best.  Rhodiola Rosea is available from Ameriden International and Swedish Herbal Institue-ProActive.  When purchasing Ginkgo and Ginseng, the brands most recommended are Ginkoba and Gingold and can be purchased by mail order at Hsu’s Ginseng.