Nutritional Aspects of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder



"Candy corn is not a vegetable." 
(Author unknown)

"What's he done this time?" How many times have I heard a parent say this after I've commandeered the school phone to call home about their child's behavior. While it is no picnic to teach a class populated with ADHD kids, life is infinitely harder for Mom and Dad, the long-suffering people Dr. Abram Hoffer calls "battered parents." And with good reason.

Most if not all ADHD kids are stimulation addicts. They are little adrenaline junkies, craving the very rush that poisons their cranium. Adrenaline is the catecholamine neurotransmitter of sturm and drang, of storm and stress. Over stimulation can mean overproduction of adrenaline. Excess adrenaline is oxidized into adrenochrome, an LSD-like bad trip hallucinogen that, to use a 1960's phrase, flips you out. Commonly, such adrenochrome-whacked kids also crave dietary overstimulation, particularly colored and sugared junk food, which further assaults their brain. All the time, day after day.

If you have an ADHD child, all this will instantly resonate with you. "That's him!" you will say. It also perfectly describes a boy I helped to raise for eight years. As a preadolescent, he was having worse than usual behavioral problems at school and at home. Interestingly enough, the child had been taking physician-prescribed little bits of niacin, though totaling less than 150 mg/day. Not a bad beginning, since the RDA for kids is under 20 mg/day. But it wasn't enough to be effective, and the lad was slated for the Ritalin-for-lunch bunch. But pharmacy was no answer, for when tried, drugs generally made him worse: more angry and still more confrontational, bordering on paranoid.

The boy did not want to take much niacin because he so strongly objected to the flush. Knowing that the dose had to be increased far over 150 mg/day for any hope of success, his Mom finally tried giving him 500 mg niacinamide three times daily (1,500 mg total). There was noticeable improvement. At 3,000 mg/day, the youngster was doing even better, but developed nausea from the niacinamide, and the dosage was cut way, way back. In time, the boy had a violent psychotic episode severe enough that his parents had to hold him down while the now 13-year-old lad screamed death threats at them.

After that, to increase the B-3 dose without nausea, the now highly-motivated mother went to plain niacin, flushes and all. With about 500 mg every few hours, the boy was a new person. He was the most cheerful, cooperative, affectionate youngster imaginable. Adding vitamin C and B-6 to his regimen helped even more. His school performance soared, and the teachers loved him. When his liver enzyme tests read high, the niacin dose was again reduced, but not by so much this time. At age 15, his maintenance dose was about 3,000 mg/day. He graduated high school, was gainfully employed, and then went on to college. This is exactly in line with what Dr. Abram Hoffer has repeatedly demonstrated effective for over 50 years.

Behavior is at least as much biochemical as anything else. Unresponsive, uneducated physicians routinely overlook the nutrition connection. That's fine for them; they see the child as a patient for only minutes. Parents cannot escape: they go home at the end of the day to a child that may be hostile, antsy, and out of control. Behavior modification and counseling, while laudable ideas, all too often fail because ADHD kids are unreceptive to behavior counseling because the behavior itself is biochemical. As you cannot implant happy thoughts in a victim of arsenic or cyanide poisoning, so you cannot adequately counsel kids with adrenochrome coursing through their bodies.

When my brothers and I were cranky, Mom used to tell us that "There are good boys and tired boys, and tired boys cry." She meant there are no "bad" boys (or girls) by nature. If we were fussy, we must therefore need a nap. As a former teacher, Mom knew that you seek to change the behavior, not condemn the person. 

I have taught every grade there is. My students have ranged from primary school, long ago, all the way to the doctoral level. This experience has helped me to understand the essential role that nutrition plays in the education process. May you never have a class full of sugared up, chemically fed, vitamin deficient students.  Regardless of age, they are too poisoned to pay attention. 

Many, perhaps most, of the "difficult" pupils in schools today are not "bad" but nutritionally impaired. School lunch programs attempt to provide calories and a full belly, and they are clearly better than nothing. It would be much better to approve and fund only menu items free of artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and added sugar. The addition of a good multiple vitamin and extra Vitamin C to each meal would do even more.  Over and over again, large research studies confirm that American kids are NOT getting even the modest US RDA of many vitamins and minerals.  This has to affect their school performance. What would be surprising would be if it did not. 

For some reason, though, "natural foods" and vitamin supplements are taboo in most nurse-and-dietitian circles. "Just eat a balanced diet" still rules nutritional politics. How bad is it? 

Well, did you know that Food Stamps cannot be used to buy vitamins? But you CAN use Food Stamps to buy sugar-laden breakfast cereals, and grocery-store donuts, which typically contain chemical colors as well as sugar. What do you expect, when nutrition textbooks say, in the same chapter, that 1) Vitamin C is quickly destroyed by heat AND  2) French fries are a good source of Vitamin C? 

Did you know that children are not allowed to take vitamin tablets in school without a doctor's written permission? Yet they can be fed cupcakes and candy right in class or the lunchroom. 

Even Rodney Dangerfield might agree that vitamins and natural food "don't get no respect." Does comedy show food awareness? "My wife: I won't say she's a bad cook, but how come the flies chipped in to fix the screen door? Hey, should meat loaf really glow in the dark?  But seriously..." 

There is reason to suspect that Attention Deficit Disorder is really Vitamin Deficit Disorder.  What is so difficult about giving schoolchildren a multivitamin supplement to make up their deficit? 

Don't tell me that vitamins would be too dangerous, expensive or impractical to administer in school. They give kids the prescription drug methylphenidate (eg. Ritalin; Concerta) in schools everywhere. Look at Ritalin's dangers, contraindications and side effects, listed in the Physician's Desk Reference (online or from the Medical Economics Co., Oradell, NJ).  Such information covers over three columns of fine print and you might not enjoy reading it.  Now compare this to non-prescription vitamins taken safely by nearly three-quarters of all Americans every day. . . and not even one death per year from vitamins.  Let's get food supplements into kids whose parents cannot afford them.  Isn't that the logic behind school meals? 

Schools can easily avoid artificial chemicals in their menus. You want to see for yourself? Visit the kitchen of your local public or private school and read the labels on the boxes they get from their food distributors. Yet a school district has only to specify a standard and the suppliers will jump to keep their business. Cars have seatbelts and airbags now.  How about putting a little pressure on your Board of Education to go chemical-free in their served meals? 

The behavior benefits of subtracting food chemicals and adding vitamin supplements are elementary. Many children respond promptly to a chemical-free diet. Benjamin Feingold, M.D., an allergist, wrote Why Your Child is Hyperactive to help parents get behavior improvement through foods without drugs. It works for many, and it's safer than "speed.". Ritalin, after all, has "a potency between the amphetamines and caffeine... it is now (1990) estimated that over 750,000 public school children are currently receiving such treatment in the United States." (Ray and Ksir, Drugs, Society and Human Behavior, 5th ed., 1990, p. 121). As of today (2018), that number is approaching five million. Like the amphetamines, Ritalin and similar drugs reduce a child's growth rate by up to 20%.  Kids as young as age six line up daily, in school, for this drug.  Let's line them up for vitamins instead. 

In 2011, the CDC said that 11% of American children have been diagnosed with ADHD. 75% of these kids will be put on medication.

You can create behavioral-social problems in an animal with a vitamin deficient diet. Many major symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are very similar to those of niacin deficiency. 

Natural diet need not work for every child to still help thousands of them.  It is safe to try it for all. There are no harmful side effects whatsoever from avoiding added sugar and artificial food additives. Drug dependency isn't encouraged with good nutrition. Neither are all those adverse reactions (I counted over 30 just for Ritalin alone) listed in the Physicians' Desk Reference. There is a copy of the PDR for you to look at behind any pharmacy counter. 

I know of case after case where a kid stops getting food additives and starts taking vitamins, especially niacinamide, vitamin C, and B-complex, and is off Ritalin in a matter of a few weeks or less. It is most effective to give vitamins in divided doses with food. Breaking a common B-complex tablet in thirds can cover all three meals.  Frederick R. Klenner, M.D. recommended giving children their age in grams of vitamin C (a gram being 1,000 milligrams). We found that half of that was enough to keep our kids well; that is 4,000 mg daily for an eight-year-old, divided over three meals and healthy snacks. 

To paraphrase my mother: There are good kids and there are misbehaving kids, and misbehaving kids are probably malnourished. 

Copyright  C 2006, 1995, and prior years Andrew W. Saul. Revised and copyright 2020.

Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at )


Andrew W. Saul


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