Vitamin D – Nutrient Deficiencies in Children with Symptoms of ADHD (Part 1)
Table of Contents
Several studies have provided significant evidence of specific vitamin and mineral deficiencies that are tied to the symptoms of ADHD, including vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiencies in particular are often found in our children exhibiting signs of ADHD. Although it is important that we feed our children a whole food based diet we may need, in situations where our children are found to be deficient, to consider targeted supplementation.
This overview of nutrient deficiencies will give you a starting point to see which ones may be the culprits behind your child’s symptoms of ADHD and other neurodevelopmental disorders. In the end, is not about the diagnosis but the symptoms and underlying root causes, so no matter the diagnosis this may impact your child too!
What nutrients are often found to be deficient in our children
Through this seven-part series, we will discuss the science behind these nutrient deficiencies and what steps you can take to correct them. Key nutrients that have been found to be deficient in children with ADHD symptoms include Vitamin D, essential fatty acids (EFAs), and minerals including selenium, magnesium, iron, and zinc.
It is important to understand the function of these nutrients in the body, how to identify a deficiency and why the deficiency may have developed and how to address the deficiency.
Keep in mind an entire book could and have been written about each of these nutrients, so these articles will stick to the highlights to give you the best overview.
The importance and role of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a role in immune function. It is known to modulate both the innate and adaptive immune response and deficiencies are associated with autoimmunity. (1) In addition, vitamin D plays an essential role in calcium and phosphorus absorption in the intestines.
Studies have shown that there is an increased rate of vitamin D deficiency in children diagnosed with ADHD compared to their healthy peers. (2) Given these studies and the known impacts on immune health and mineral absorption we obviously do not want to ignore the health consequences of vitamin D deficiencies for our children.
So what does this have to do with ADHD symptoms? Studies have shown that supplementing with vitamin D when a child is determined to be deficient can improve behaviour and attention (3). The reasons why the symptoms resolve with improved vitamin D status are likely multifactorial and have not yet been fully determined.
However, given the implications on overall health without appropriate levels of vitamin D, supplementation can lead to many benefits for your child’s health and help with behaviour and focus too.
How do you know if your child has vitamin D deficient?
There are many potential signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency:
- Poor immune function. Often sick with cold or flu, cold sores etc.
- Autoimmune condition.
- Poor mood, depression. Vitamin D is involved in the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin.
- Muscle pain and/or bone pain (growing pains).
- Susceptibility to bone fractures.
Reasons why so many children have vitamin D deficiencies
There are many reasons why some children are at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency. Here is a list of the few main reasons:
- Children with poor fat digestion. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin which requires dietary fat to be appropriately digested in order for vitamin D to be absorbed.
- Children living further away from the equator. Vitamin D is called the “sunshine vitamin” as it is actually manufactured in the human skin when it is exposed to the ultraviolet light of the sun.
- Children with darker skin. Children with darker skin require extended periods of sun exposure to generate vitamin D due to the pigment of their skin.
- Children who have the VDR (vitamin D receptor) gene mutation. The VDR gene provides instructions for making a protein called vitamin D receptor (VDR), which allows the body to respond to vitamin D. A mutation in this gene impairs the production of VDR and therefore impairs the bioavailability of vitamin D.
- Deficiency in cofactors required to appropriately utilize Vitamin D in the body. Known cofactors are fatty acids, vitamins A and K, magnesium, zinc, and boron.
What you can do now to correct a vitamin D deficiencies
There are many reasons why some children are at higher risk for vitamin D deficiencies. Here is a list of the few main reasons:
- Encourage your child to eat a diet high in vitamin D. This includes things like pasture-raised egg yolks, cod liver oil and fatty fish (eg. salmon, mackerel). Avoid foods “fortified” in vitamin D as it is often the wrong form of vitamin D.
- Get your child to spend time in sunlight with their skin exposed (without sunscreen). Obviously, there is a balance between healthy exposures and excessive exposures that lead to sunburns, find the right balance for your child.
- Ensure your child has sufficient levels of the cofactors (fatty acids, vitamins A and K, magnesium, zinc, and boron) required to utilize vitamin D.
- Ensure your child has good fat digestion
- Get your child’s vitamin D level checked with your practitioner. The test is to measure vitamin D is a blood test for levels of 25(OH)D. The optimal functional range recommended by most clinicians working with our children is 60-80 ng/mL.
- Discuss with your practitioner supplementing with vitamin D and what formulation they recommend giving your child’s vitamin D levels in conjunction with the other factors that may impact their vitamin D bioavailability.
- Vitamin D and the Immune System, J Investig Med. 2011 Aug; 59(6): 881–886. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166406/
- Kamal, M., Bener, A. & Ehlayel, M.S. ADHD Atten Def Hyp Disord (2014) 6: 73. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12402-014-0130-5
- Khaled Saad, Ahmed A. Abdel-rahman, Yasser M. Elserogy, Abdulrahman A. Al-Atram, John J. Cannell, Geir Bjørklund, Mohamed K. Abdel-Reheim, Hisham A. K. Othman, Amira A. El-Houfey, Nafisa H. R. Abd El-Aziz, Khaled A. Abd El-Baseer, Ahmed E. Ahmed & Ahmed M. Ali (2016) Vitamin D status in autism spectrum disorders and the efficacy of vitamin D supplementation in autistic children, Nutritional Neuroscience, 19:8,346-351, https://doi.org/10.1179/1476830515Y.0000000019
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