Iron supplementation found to help hyperactive children

I not so long ago wrote about the research which has found that hyperactivity in children can seemingly be triggered by certain food additives.

However, just like about any health issue one care’s to mention, hyperactivity (or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ” ADHD ” to give it it’s full name) is multifactorial in nature. This means that it can be caused by more than one thing. Also, more than one underlying factor may be at play in any individual.

One of the other factors that has previously been identified as a potential underlying factor in ADHD is iron deficiency. In a previous piece (see below), I cited some research which has found iron deficiency to be common in children with ADHD. I also mentioned a study which found that iron supplementation helped reduce ADHD symptoms in children suffering from low iron.

This second study was hampered by having no ‘control’ group taking a placebo. So, we may have an idea that iron supplementation is better than doing nothing, but we cannot tell from this study whether the effect was due to some ‘real’ effect from the iron, or the ‘placebo’ response.

Just recently, a study was published in the journal Pediatric Neurology which tested the effect of iron in ADHD-affected children, and this time, a control group was included. Children with ferritin (iron) levels of less than 30 ng/ml were treated with 80 mg per day of ferrous sulphate or placebo for a period of 12 weeks. The group taking the iron saw a significant reduction in hyperactive symptoms compared to those taking placebo. It is not known quite what the link between iron and ADHD is. However, it is known that iron is necessary for the normal functioning of the brain chemical dopamine ” reducing functioning of which may be a factor in ADHD.

What this study shows is that checking iron levels in kids with ADHD makes sense, as does supplementing them with iron should these prove to be low or on the low side.


1. Konofal E, et al. Effects of Iron Supplementation on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children. Pediatr Neurol, 2007;38(1): 20-26

Dietary help for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – 20 February 2005

Reports of exponential growth in the rates of obesity in UK children have led to renewed calls for more activity and exercise to be worked into their lives. However, while some children may be appear to be immobilised by an inherent inertia, others may have an altogether different problem: children suffering with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are typically physically frenetic, and may also exhibit a range of more mental issues including impulsiveness, and mood swings. For ADHD-afflicted children, life can be both fast and furious.

My experience in practice is that kids with ADHD often respond well to dietary manipulation. While the precise approach may depend on individual factors, a diet as low as possible in sugar and artificial additives is usually at the core of my management strategy. In addition, I have found supplementation with omega-3 fats and/or magnesium generally helps to bring some calm and order to an overactive body and mind. However, my attention was recently diverted by research which suggests that the mineral iron might have the ability to temper hyperactivity in kids.

In a study published last December in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, the iron levels in a group of children with ADHD were compared with those of unaffected kids (controls) [1]. Researchers found that 84 per cent of affected children had abnormally low iron levels, compared to only 18 per cent of controls. What is more, the lower the iron level, the more pronounced the ADHD symptoms tended to be. Whatever role iron has in regulating mood and behaviour may well be related to the fact that this nutrient is necessary for the normal functioning of dopamine – a brain chemical that diverse effects on physical and mental processes. Scientists have previously suggested that dopamine depletion is a factor in ADHD, indirect evidence for which comes from the knowledge that Ritalin (a commonly used drug treatment for ADHD) boosts dopamine levels in the brain.

Studies in which iron treatment has been tried as a treatment for ADHD are unfortunately thin on the ground. However, one study found that just a month of iron supplementation led to a significant reduction in hyperactive symptoms as assessed by the sufferers’ parents [2]. While this study did not employ a placebo-taking group, its results do at least support to the notion that iron has the potential to alleviate ADHD.

Excesses of iron can be damaging to the body, so it is important for iron levels to be assessed prior to treatment with this mineral. Measuring blood levels of a substance called ferritin is widely recognised as the best gauge of iron levels in the body. For those with ferritin counts that are low or on the low side of normal, I suggest emphasising iron-rich foods in the diet such as red meat, nuts and seeds. For more rapid results, I usually recommend supplementation with an absorbable form of iron know as NDS iron (available by mail order on 01273 720720). Mounting evidence suggests that for children with ADHD, iron might turn out to be a very precious metal indeed.


1. Konofal E, et al. Iron deficiency in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2004;158(12):1113-5

2. Sever Y, et al. Iron treatment in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. A preliminary report. Neuropsychobiology 1997;35(4):178-80

8 Responses to Iron supplementation found to help hyperactive children

  1. Dr Eric Asher,The Third Space Medicine Soho 14 December 2007 at 12:38 pm #

    Well done, John
    I will certainly apply this in my practice.
    Dr Eric Asher,The Third Space Medicine Soho

  2. Eva 15 December 2007 at 7:48 pm #

    Reference 1 18 children in the Iron Group, 5 in the placebo group. Very unlikely indeed to have statistical power.

    Reference 2 14 boys, no control group. Not sure how this one even got published.

    Not really mounting evidence and it really undermines the point to use it as an advert for expensive iron supplements.

  3. Eva 15 December 2007 at 8:09 pm #

    Ouch that was quick censorship. But honestly please take a bit more care – there are a lot of parents out there struggling to do their best for children with ADHD. It is unfair to make profit from them.

  4. Dr John Briffa 16 December 2007 at 4:03 pm #

    There is evidence linking low iron levels with ADHD and at least some evidence that iron supplementation can help. Do you really believe that the imparting of this information is nothing more than a ploy to make money? Some would see that as a highly cynical attitude, and not one that is truly based on a desire for individuals to be properly informed or empowered with regard to their health.
    Also, your posts have come from the same IP address as another poster ‘Shane’. I don’t have an issue with individuals wanting to protect their identity, but I do have a problem with (as it appears here) someone posting under more than one alias. Can you clarify if this is the case here?

  5. helen 16 December 2007 at 9:33 pm #

    Iron deficiency could possibly be one of the causes of ADHD as possibly a host of other nutirient deficiencies. As the majority of these kids probably avoid eating fresh food at the best of times & probably take no dietry suppliments either. It is staggering to see what constitutes the diets of most kids these days who’s parents more than likely grew up on the same junk foods what health did they have to pass on anyway? Generationally we are becoming less and less healthy as more & more processed foods are eaten in ever increasing amounts by each successive generation. When I was young we didn’t have any take away places except for fish & chip shops & we only ate that once a week there was no pasta no rice in fact when the first chinese takeaway places started up that sort of food was for really special occassions only & we would have eaten rice & westernised chinese food once a year on average & the rest of the time we ate the boring meat & 3 veg. Laugh if you want but we were healthier then than kids are now. Asthma was rare no one but those very few people born with type 1 diabetes had diabetes, type 2 was not heard of at all, now every second person has it & most of them swear they eat no sugar while tucking into their cornflakes, toast & jam for breakfast. There was hardly any cancer or heart disease & then in the late seventies MacDonalds etc began to appear on our dietry horizons. And the dietry health of everyone has plumeted since. People don’t eat take away just on friday night anymore or on birthdays but just about every night of the week infact some kids are rared on it & will eat nothing not wrapped in a MacDonalds wrapper. Quick frozen boxed precooked meals, stuff in jars or cans & other packets just add water & heat rubbish – it isn’t food, it is stuff that looks like & tastes like well something.
    Don’t eat that rubbish for 6 months & then try it again you can hardly swallow it. Let alone stand the smell of the rancid oils they are cooked in. Our taste buds & common sense have taken a battering over the last 4 decades and this generation of children are paying the price. God help the next generation of sickly cancer & diabetes ridden kids that come along. ADHD will be the least of the next generation’s health problems.

  6. Eva 26 December 2007 at 2:13 pm #

    The reason why I changed aliases is because the previous one was censored.

    This evidence from the studies shown is not robust enough to make the claims in this article. It is certainly not appropriate to use it to support the sale of an expensive iron supplement when, if required, it would be provided by a G.P free on prescription.

  7. Dr John Briffa 4 January 2008 at 12:24 pm #

    How can you say your previous comment was ‘censored’ when it’s clearly been posted? It wasn’t censored – ever (though it was in moderation).
    What claims do you feel I have made that are not supported by the evidence (please be specific)?
    Your assertion that it is not appropriate to support the sale of an ‘expensive’ iron supplement when free iron is available from a GP is a matter of opinion. Can I ask what clinical experience you have of managing low iron status in children? In particular, could you tell me what experience you have of using different forms of iron in this regard?

  8. Julie A. 22 September 2013 at 10:13 pm #

    My 11 yr. old suffers from extreme adhd. He also used to have absence seizures. We cleaned up our diets, although we thought we ate healthy before. For the past 5 yrs. we’ve eaten organic whole foods, homemade, not the packaged crap someone mentioned before. His seizures were cleared a year ago, but still has extreme hyperactivity and focus problems both at home and school (he has an IEP). He has been through almost every adhd med. (which I hate) with very little to no success, and a disgusting array of side effects. We are waiting for iron/ferritin test results. I am hoping and praying that this might be another piece to the puzzle. Thank you for your info. it gives me some encouragement.

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