Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Treating ADHD with Magnesium and Vitamin B6

In the last post, we examined how magnesium levels are tied to ADHD and how supplementation with magnesium can potentially help for the disorder. We will be adding one more step to this process by including the role of vitamin B6 into the mix of magnesium treatment for ADHD. Vitamin B6 has been shown to improve the absorption of magnesium as well as other minerals into cells, allowing higher levels of this key mineral to be attained. Essentially, this allows smaller doses of magnesium to be taken by making the intake process more efficient. Additionally, B vitamins have their own set of properties and numerous studies have linked the B vitamin family to improved mental function.

A study was done on the effectiveness of the Magnesium/Vitamin B6 combination treatment for ADHD. While the subjects of this study were young children, many of these results can carry over to adult cases of ADHD. A quick synopsis of the original publication can be found here. I will summarize some of the key points here:

  • Individuals with ADHD have lower than normal levels of magnesium inside their blood cells than do individuals without the disorder. However, magnesium levels in the serum (liquid part of the blood which does not include the blood cells) were not tied to ADHD. Since Vitamin B6 helps get the magnesium into the blood cells, it is a key ingredient in treating ADHD with Magnesium.

  • Low magnesium levels can also lead to irritability (which is also a potential side effect of Vitamin B6 supplementation by itself. This is another reason why taking Magnesium and B6 together can be useful). Hyperactivity, inattention, aggressive behavior and sleep problems are also associated with low magnesium levels. It also has been tied to reduced blood flow to the brain, which is a common phenomena frequently seen in brain scans of ADHD individuals.

  • Treatment with magnesium and vitamin B6 reduced negative symptoms of inattention, aggressiveness and hyperactivity in a study of young children (average age around 6-7 years old). The amounts used were 6 mg/kg/day for magnesium and 0.6mg/kg/day for vitamin B6. This is roughly 100-200 mg of magnesium, which is in line with the recommended amounts (see here for these numbers) and around 10-20 mg for Vitamin B6.

  • Although most ADHD symptoms were improved with Magnesium/Vitamin B6 treatment, the most improvement was seen in hyperactivity. Thus this Magnesium/Vitamin B6 treatment combination would likely have the most success in the Hyperactive Impulsive or Combined ADHD subtypes.

  • Symptom improvements were seen the most in individuals who had higher (closer to normal) magnesium levels to begin with. This suggests that there may be some type of minimum threshold in cells or tissues that must be attained to achieve the desired results. This supports the idea that Magnesium/Vitamin B6 should be more of a long-term treatment strategy for ADHD, as opposed to a "quick fix".

  • It also suggests that it may take awhile (2 months or more, based on some of the study's parameters) for the full effectiveness to kick in. This was further supported by the fact that when treatment was discontinued, the undesired ADHD symptoms returned within a few weeks. The good news behind this is that missing a day will not have the pronounced immediate effects of missing a day of a stimulant medication for ADHD.

  • Speaking of stimulant medications, the article referenced other studies which noted that stimulant medications such as dextroamphetamine and methylphenidate boost magnesium levels in the blood. This is important to note, especially for individuals who already take ADHD stimulant medications. It is possible that combining these meds with magnesium/vitamin B6 supplementation can lead to magnesium levels above the upper limit. Please consult your physician before taking Magnesium/Vitamin B6, especially if you are already taking stimulant medications for ADHD. For more information on magnesium overdose and its symptoms, please click here.

This study presents compelling evidence that deficits in just one mineral can be a major factor in the onset of ADHD. It also suggests that a relatively simple treatment via slight dietary changes or supplementation can produce significant results in treating ADHD. Although the study had some flaws (relatively short duration, few test subjects and minimal placebo controls), the results are difficult to overlook.

In our next post, we will investigate the role of magnesium in some of the other disorders that frequently occur alongside ADHD, also known as ADHD comorbid disorders.