My husband is the real scientist in our house, a molecular biologist by training and profession. But he contends I have strong scientific instincts. I can’t always substantiate my hunches—my scientific education and vocabulary is relatively meager—but sometimes my hunches are eventually proven correct.
Such could be the case with iron supplements and ADHD. For years, I’ve worried about this trend of parents giving kids with ADHD iron supplements after learning that ADHD is associated with low iron. Some adults take the supplements, too, for Restless Legs Syndrome, but are their iron levels being well-monitored and other causes being considered?
What if the problem, I wondered, is sometimes not with iron insufficiency in the diet but with the brain failing to “recognize” and absorb iron? This is a question worth asking, because a surplus of iron in the body carries great risks. I had a suspicion that stimulant medication would help to correct this problem as well as other metabolic issues. Preliminary research indicates this might be true.
Thank goodness for the researchers who study arduously for years in order to be able to painstakingly tease out answers on such topics. Emerging research indicates that yes, stimulant medication might normalize iron absorption in the brain (excerpt from a Medscape article: Brain Iron Levels a Potential ADHD Biomarker):
Vitria Adisetiyo, Ph.D.
Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have reduced iron levels in the brain, which normalize with stimulant medication, the research suggests.
Investigators at the Medical University of South Carolina Center for Biomedical Imaging in Charleston found that medication-naive patients with ADHD had significantly lower brain iron levels compared with their counterparts who had been receiving psychostimulant medication.
The researchers also found that ADHD patients with a history of psychostimulant medication treatment had brain iron levels comparable with those of control individuals, suggesting that brain iron levels may increase to normal levels with psychostimulant treatment.
These findings have potential implications for diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, lead researcher Vitria Adisetiyo, PhD, told Medscape Medical News.
From my personal correspondence with Dr. Adisetiyo, she adds this important dimension of the investigation: “We also measured peripheral blood iron measures in the ADHD patients and controls and found no significant differences. This is consistent with your hypothesis that the issue in ADHD may not be insufficiency of blood iron in the body but rather a problem with its absorption into the brain since abnormal brain iron levels were detected in the medication-naïve ADHD patients even when blood iron levels were normal.”
It is important to remember: This is preliminary research, and the article points out potential limitations with this study. But this is how science works: incrementally. Dr. Adisetiyo and colleagues are currently launching an attempt to replicate their findings, with eventual plans to conduct a larger longitudinal study examining brain iron levels before and after use of psychostimulant medication in children and adolescents with ADHD.
In the meantime, please be cautious with supplements that, in excess, can cause significant problems.
Have you experimented with iron supplements? Your comments welcome. No annoying codes to enter.