Preliminary research shows that treating ADHD with stimulant medication can normalize the ability to uptake iron already in the diet. That is, there’s no need for supplementation. And, in fact, iron supplementation might be dangerous.
This trend of parents giving iron supplements to their children with ADHD? I find it worrying. They hear that ADHD is associated with low iron, so they supplement it. Some adults take the supplements, too, for Restless Legs Syndrome. But are their iron levels well-monitored and are other causes considered? Unclear.
It’s one thing to have sufficient iron in the bloodstream. It’s quite another to have sufficient iron in the brain.
My husband is the credentialed scientist in our house. He is 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 might be the case with iron supplements and ADHD, according to a study cited below.
As the lead research wrote in correspondence with me:
“This is consistent with your hypothesis, Gina, 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.”
Thank goodness for scientific researchers. They study arduously for years in order to be able to painstakingly tease out answers on such topics.
Iron Deficiency or Poor Uptake to the Brain?
What if there is plenty of iron in the diet? What if the problem happens in the brain? The brain fails to “recognize” and absorb iron. Would that even be a thing, I wondered?
Well, yes, as it turns out. This question is worth asking. A surplus of iron in the body carries great risks. I had a suspicion that stimulant medication might help to correct this uptake problem.
As it turns out, emerging research indicates yes. That is, yes, stimulant medication might normalize iron absorption in the brain.
You can read the original paper here:
Stimulants Might Normalize Iron Uptake In The Brain
Here is an excerpt from the Medscape report (Brain Iron Levels a Potential ADHD Biomarker):
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.
More From Researcher Vitria Adisetiyo
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, Gina, 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.
Yet, this is how science works: incrementally.
Dr. Adisetiyo and colleagues are currently launching an attempt to replicate their findings. Eventual plans include conducting 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.