A University of Canterbury PhD student is investigating to see if micronutrients help children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and improve their social skills and cognitive functions.
Student researcher Kathryn Darling’s study will be the first ever to investigate the impact of nutrients on social skills.
It is important because children with ADHD often have poor social skills, which may be associated with problems later in life such as dropping out of school, breaking the law and developing other mental health issues.
ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed psychiatric childhood disorders. It affects approximately five per cent of children and involves major difficulties with inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviour.
“These symptoms affect all aspects of a child’s life, impacting school, home, and friendships. These problems can be frustrating for parents and place extra pressure on schools and teachers,” Ms Darling says.
“ADHD is normally treated using stimulant medication such as Ritalin; however, due to concerns over side-effects, long-term effectiveness, and their potential for abuse, there is an increasing need to seek alternative treatments.
“Nutritional treatment may be a viable option for treating various mental health problems, including ADHD. Appropriate levels of nutrition may not be obtained through diet for a range of reasons including poor diet, reduced nutrient content in food and underlying risk factors that result in higher nutrient requirements than can be obtained through diet alone,” Ms Darling says.
“We are investigating whether nutrients required for optimal brain function can be provided by vitamin and mineral supplements. Nutrients are used in the brain and body in complex combinations. A balanced blend of vitamins and minerals may be more promising for treating complex issues such as ADHD than single nutrients alone.”
One of the university’s psychology professors Julia Rucklidge and her colleagues have conducted a large number of clinical trials documenting the benefits of broad-spectrum micronutrients for the treatment of psychiatric illness. The most recent one was a double-blind randomised controlled trial testing a micronutrient supplement to treat ADHD in adults.
Professor Rucklidge’s research found vitamins and minerals can help treat psychological symptoms, like anxiety and stress, which indicates there may be a fairly inexpensive treatment option for people undergoing psychological and financial hardships characteristic of a post-disaster situation.
The university’s Mental Health and Nutrition Research Group is now looking for children in Christchurch aged eight to 12 who are either diagnosed with ADHD or have similar problems and are not currently taking stimulant medication to be part of a study testing the use of a micronutrient supplement to treat ADHD in children.