Zinc—Nutrient Deficiencies found in Children with Symptoms of ADHD (Part 5)
February 26, 2019
Zinc is a mineral that is often found to be deficient in children with symptoms of ADHD.1 Zinc deficiency may affect cognitive development by alterations in attention, activity, neuropsychological behaviour and motor development.2 Zinc and copper levels must be in balance and have shown to correlate to ADHD symptoms when the ratio is low.3 Studies have shown that when children are supplemented with zinc, it decreases hyperactive, impulsivity and poor socialization behaviours.4
What nutrients are often found to be deficient in our children
Through this seven-part series, we will discuss the science behind these nutrient deficiencies and what steps you can take to correct them. Key nutrients that have been found to be deficient in children with ADHD symptoms include vitamin D, essential fatty acids (EFAs), and minerals including selenium, magnesium, iron, and zinc.
It is important to understand the function of these nutrients in the body, how to identify a deficiency and why the deficiency may have developed, and how to address the deficiency.
Keep in mind that entire books could and have been written about each of these nutrients, so these articles will stick to the highlights to give you the best overview.
The importance and role of zinc
Zinc is a mineral that is involved in over 200 enzymatic activities that regulate many biochemical reactions throughout the body. It plays a role in energy metabolism, protein synthesis, immunity and detoxification. In addition, zinc has been shown to play a role in epigenetic dysregulation.5
Zinc is required for brain development and maintenance, supporting the adrenal glands (significant to the stress response).
In addition, zinc metabolism is tied to copper metabolism. This relationship means that if one of these minerals is out of balance, then the other will be too. More often than not zinc is found to be too low which results in copper being too high (out of balance zinc to copper ratio). Elevated levels of copper can be harmful and cause oxidation and high levels of free radicals and at the same time inhibit antioxidant enzymes.6
Dr. William Walsh outlines the many roles of zinc in brain function in his book Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain:
- Zinc metallothionein is a key component of the blood-brain barrier that prevents harmful chemicals from entering the brain
- Zinc proteins in the brain combat oxidative free radicals that could destroy brain cells, harm the myelin sheath, and alter neurotransmitter levels.
- Zinc is required for the efficient conversion of dietary B-6 into PLP, which is needed for efficient synthesis of serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and other neurotransmitters.
- Zinc deficiency can cause copper overloads that can alter brain levels of dopamine and norepinephrine.
- Zinc is a neurotransmitter that is stored in vesicles and ejected into synapses.
- Zinc has a special role in the activation and inhibition of NMDA receptors.7
How do you know if your child is zinc deficient?
There are many potential signs and symptoms of a zinc deficiency:
- Week immunity ( a child that goes from one cold/sickness to the next)
- Poor neurological function (including attention challenges)
- White lines or white spots on the nails
- Poor growth
- Mouth sores
- Loss of taste or poor taste
- Loss of smell
- Low RBC/plasma zinc levels.
- Abnormally low zinc to copper ratio determined through testing.
Reasons why so many children have a zinc deficiency
There are many reasons why some children are at higher risk of zinc deficiency. Here is a list of the few main reasons:
- Poor digestion. Your child may already be eating a diet high in foods containing zinc, but if they are not cleaving the mineral and absorbing it appropriately, they may still be deficient. Check out this article on how to support digestion.
- Digestive disease and leaky gut.
- High copper levels. If copper levels increase, zinc levels decrease. The ideal ratio of copper to zinc is 1:1.
- A prolonged period of diarrhea.
- Eating a diet low in zinc-containing foods.
- The deficiency may be related to low free fatty acid levels.8
- Eating a diet high in foods that impair absorption (foods with phytates, oxalates and foods high in fibre).
- Eating a diet high in processed foods (which are devoid of nutrients as the result of processing).
- Lower levels of minerals in general in the food supply due to depletion of the soil. Consuming organic foods from farms that replenish the soil can help to increase the nutrient status of foods.
- Eating foods with red/yellow dyes, high fructose corn syrup and msg that deplete zinc.
Simple steps you can do now to correct a zinc deficiency
- Encourage your child to eat a diet high in zinc. Pair high-zinc foods with foods containing vitamin C to increase absorption. Where possible consume foods from organic sources to ensure the highest nutrient content available.
- Support digestion to ensure maximum absorption. See this article on how to identify and correct digestive challenges.
- Avoid consuming foods that have phytates and oxalates at the same time as the high zinc foods or supplements containing zinc.
- Avoid aspirin and drugs that contain salicylates that compete with zinc
- Avoid eating items high in fibre around the time of zinc supplementation.
- Avoid high copper foods (dark chocolate, some nuts and seeds, some dark leafy greens and beef liver).
- Avoid other sources of excess copper. Examples of sources include tap water from copper pipes, swimming pools or hot tubs that use algaecides etc.
- Consider supplementing with zinc. Supplementation is best given at night away from other foods. Keep in mind that zinc impairs the DDPIV enzyme, so be sure to take away from digestive enzyme supplementation too. The best forms of zinc to supplement with are typically picolinate, acetate or carnosine. Be sure to consult a health care practitioner and monitor zinc to copper ratios to obtain optimal RBC or plasma zinc levels and balance the ratio.
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Articles Related to Zinc—Nutrient Deficiencies found in Children with Symptoms of ADHD (Part 5)
- Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry
- Bhatnagar, S., & Taneja, S. (2001). Zinc and cognitive development. British Journal of Nutrition, 85(S2), S139-S145. doi:10.1079/BJN2000306
- Viktorinova A et al, Changed Plasma Levels of Zinc and Copper to Zinc Ratio and Their Possible Associations with Parent- and Teacher-Rated Symptoms in Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.Biol Trace Elem Res. 2016 Jan;169(1):1-7. doi: 10.1007/s12011-015-0395-3. Epub 2015 Jun 12.
- Bilici, M, et al., Double-blind, placebo-controlled study of zinc sulfate in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2004 Jan;28(1):181-90.
- Gu H.F., Zhang X. (2017) Zinc Deficiency and Epigenetics. In: Preedy V., Patel V. (eds) Handbook of Famine, Starvation, and Nutrient Deprivation. Springer, Cham
- Johnson, S., Micronutrient accumulation and depletion in schizophrenia, epilepsy, autism and Parkinson's disease?Med Hypotheses. 2001 May;56(5):641-5.
- Walsh, W., 2012. Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, p. 23.
- Bekaroǧlu, M. , Asian, Y. , Gedik, Y. , Deǧer, O. , Mocan, H. , Erduran, E. and Karahan, C. (1996), Relationships Between Serum Free Fatty Acids and Zinc, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity