Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that typically presents in children before the age of 12 and often continues on into adulthood as Adult ADHD. Typically, people with ADHD show traits that can be split into two groups: hyperactivity and inattentiveness. While the symptoms of ADHD can be experienced by everyone in their day-to-day lives, the difference between someone who has ADHD and someone who doesn’t is the severity of those symptoms and how they have an adverse effect on that person’s day-to-day functioning such as in work, study, and personal relationships. Think of it like the difference between feeling low and having clinical depression, everyone experiences periods of low mood but that does not mean everyone has depression.
Symptoms of hyperactivity include:
- Difficulty waiting their turn (such as blurting out answers or responses)
- Excessive talking
- Excessive movement (such as constant fidgeting)
- Frequent impulsive decision-making without consideration of consequences
- Feeling restless and generally being uncomfortable with sitting still
Symptoms of inattentiveness include:
- Losing things often
- Being easily distracted
- Lack of attention on tasks that are boring or don’t provide any mental stimulation
- Making careless mistakes in assignments
- Difficulties with organisation
ADHD can be a particularly distressing condition to have because of the effects it has on day to day life as well as on how it makes those with ADHD prone to having other mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety etc.
While the symptoms of ADHD are typically classed as inattentiveness and/or hyperactivity for diagnostic purposes, there are many other ways in which ADHD manifests including:
- Emotional dysregulation (experiencing intense emotions and/or frequent mood swings)
- Poor sense of time
- Difficulty maintaining relationships
- Hyperfocus (very intense periods of concentration on interests)1,2
While ADHD is commonly thought of in the context of children, adult ADHD can also make it very difficult to maintain an occupation, to care for yourself and is associated with an increased risk of substance abuse.3
Fortunately, there are many ways to treat ADHD, the first line of treatment is often a stimulant medication. Common examples include methylphenidate hydrochloride which is more commonly given to children; and amphetamine-dextroamphetamine or Lisdexamfetamine which are preferred in adult ADHD cases. These all work to alleviate ADHD symptoms caused by a chronic lack of dopamine in the brain by increasing the patient's dopamine levels. However, alongside stimulant medication, there are other non-pharmaceutical treatment options commonly used to treat ADHD such as ADHD coaching and therapy.
For a while, scientists have been exploring the relationship between nutrition and the role it plays in the presentation of some mental health and neurological conditions, including ADHD. In those who have ADHD, particularly children, it has been found that they are significantly likely to have low magnesium levels, leading to studies on how ADHD symptoms could possibly be treated with magnesium supplementation. To find out more about how magnesium could help with ADHD symptoms, read below.
How does magnesium affect people with ADHD?
The question you might be asking yourself is why magnesium in particular? Magnesium is an essential mineral that you get from your diet that is very important for a range of biological processes including those within your nervous system. These include:
- Processes like relaxing your nerves, preventing them from firing excessively at the neuromuscular junction (nerve impulses trigger the contraction of your muscles and excessive stimulation here could lead to seizures) 4
- Helping bodily enzymes carry out essential functions such as creating energy for your nervous system and brain function4
Those with magnesium deficiencies can therefore experience a range of symptoms such as seizures, anxiety, personality changes, mood swings, loss of concentration.4 You might have noticed some of those symptoms in those with ADHD.
Low magnesium levels have not been shown to cause ADHD, however, many studies have identified that those with ADHD are still more likely to have magnesium deficiencies and that the general symptoms of magnesium deficiency have some overlap with ADHD symptoms.4
One study found that 72% of ADHD children in their study had a magnesium deficiency and those who received magnesium supplementation alongside their normal medication reported better control of their symptoms. Another recent clinical trial found that magnesium and vitamin D supplementation led to a significant reduction in emotional and behavioural problems. Although further research is still required the current research shows promising results.5,6
The reasons why those with ADHD tend to have lower magnesium levels are yet unknown but a few are theorised:
- Loss of appetite is one of the side effects of ADHD medication which may make it very difficult for children to get the needed amount of dietary magnesium
- ADHD in adults can prevent them from properly taking care of themselves, including eating a variety of healthy foods and consistent nutritious meals7
- ADHD is also commonly diagnosed in those with Autistic Spectrum Disorder where fussy eating can be an issue leading to possible nutritional deficiencies7
How much magnesium should I take for ADHD?
There is not yet a defined amount of magnesium that is recommended to treat ADHD symptoms and different studies have used different magnesium doses and different durations of treatment. Consequently, you cannot be sure how long you would have to take which dose of magnesium supplement to see an improvement in your ADHD symptoms just yet.
However, magnesium deficiency does have defined treatment plans depending on your age. For adults, the recommended dosages are:
- 4-8 mmol tablets 3 times (roughly 300-600 mg a day) a day of magnesium citrate
- Or 0-20 mmol a day (1-2 sachets a day which is equivalent to 243-486 mg) a day of magnesium aspartate
For children, the recommended dosages are:
- 4.5mmol a day (one 5ml spoonful) of magnesium aspartate (ages 2-9)
- 10 mmol dose or 1 sachet of magnesium aspartate (ages 10-17)
- 4 mmol 3 times of magnesium citrate a day (ages 12-17)
Which magnesium is best for ADHD?
The best source of magnesium is through a healthy diet. Magnesium is readily present in foods such as spinach, seeds, nuts, avocado, and brown rice. Even though maintaining a healthy diet and meal plan as part of a daily routine can be a particular issue in those with ADHD, solving this issue can go a long way to improving magnesium levels.
- Magnesium aspartate tends to be the preferred choice of magnesium supplement by clinicians to treat magnesium deficiency and requires a prescription
- Magnesium citrate is however, readily available over-the-counter and is, therefore, easier to obtain
- Magnesium in the form of liquid medicine or dissolvable sachet powder may be a preferred option for those that do not like or are unable to swallow tablets
Side effects and other concerns
Before taking any magnesium supplements, it is best to consult a doctor first to determine if you or your child with ADHD actually have a magnesium deficiency. This is because magnesium should be present in your diet and is only typically absent in those with poor diet or malnutrition. Additionally, clinical studies which showed a benefit to ADHD were done with people who already had low magnesium levels so taking magnesium supplements with normal magnesium levels may not give you any benefit.
Other concerns when taking any magnesium supplement include:
- Abnormal kidney function - kidneys balance the amount of magnesium in your blood, if you have a kidney disorder or your kidney function isn’t well taking magnesium supplements could lead to toxic rise in magnesium levels
- Diarrhoea - commonly seen when a higher dose of magnesium citrate is taken
- High magnesium levels - having high or toxic levels of magnesium is particularly serious and causes symptoms such as diziness, nausea, confusion, muscle weakness and difficulting passing urine
If you experience any of these symptoms while taking a magnesium supplement you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Overall while low serum magnesium is not the cause of ADHD symptoms, low levels of magnesium can worsen the symptoms. Current research does show that there is potential for the use of magnesium supplements to treat ADHD symptoms. While the studies have been predominantly done in children, there may be a potential benefit for those with Adult ADHD as well. If you are concerned that you or your child with ADHD may have a nutritional deficiency which could be contributing to worsening symptoms, it is best to first consult a doctor before commencing supplementation.
- Ashinoff BK, Abu-Akel A. Hyperfocus: the forgotten frontier of attention. Psychol Res [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2023 Aug 29];85(1):1–19. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7851038/
- Faraone SV, Rostain AL, Blader J, Busch B, Childress AC, Connor DF, et al. Practitioner Review: Emotional dysregulation in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder - implications for clinical recognition and intervention. J Child Psychol Psychiatr [Internet]. 2019 Feb [cited 2023 Aug 29];60(2):133–50. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcpp.12899
- Zulauf CA, Sprich SE, Safren SA, Wilens TE. The complicated relationship between attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and substance use disorders. Curr Psychiatry Rep [Internet]. 2014 Mar [cited 2023 Aug 29];16(3):436. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4414493/
- Effatpanah M, Rezaei M, Effatpanah H, Effatpanah Z, Varkaneh HK, Mousavi SM, et al. Magnesium status and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Adhd): A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research [Internet]. 2019 Apr 1 [cited 2023 Aug 29];274:228–34. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165178118318456
- El Baza F, AlShahawi HA, Zahra S, AbdelHakim RA. Magnesium supplementation in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Egyptian Journal of Medical Human Genetics [Internet]. 2016 Jan 1 [cited 2023 Aug 29];17(1):63–70. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1110863015000555
- Hemamy M, Pahlavani N, Amanollahi A, Islam SMS, McVicar J, Askari G, et al. The effect of vitamin D and magnesium supplementation on the mental health status of attention-deficit hyperactive children: a randomized controlled trial. BMC Pediatr [Internet]. 2021 Apr 17 [cited 2023 Aug 29];21:178. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8052751/
- Antshel KM, Russo N. Autism spectrum disorders and adhd: overlapping phenomenology, diagnostic issues, and treatment considerations. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2019 Mar 22;21(5):34. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30903299/