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Magnesium supplementation as a
treatment for ADHD

by David Rabiner, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist
Copyright (C) 1999

I recently received an advertisement touting magnesium supplements as an effective treatment for ADHD. The person sending me the ad indicated that this treatment was supported by scientific research. Because of the interest that I, and so many people have in alternative ADHD treatments, I decided to see what I could find on this.

Based on my search of the literature, I would say that the scientific support for this treatment is a bit thin. I was able to locate one study in which magnesium supplements for ADHD was investigated (Kozielec, T., & Starobrat-Hermelin, B. (1997). Assessment of Magnesium levels in children with ADHD. Magnesium Research, 10, 143-148). The study was conducted by scientists in Poland, where it is interesting to note that stimulant medications for treating ADHD are not available. (By the way, this is apparently the case in a number of European countries.)

These researchers examined hair, red cell, and serum magnesium levels in 116 children diagnosed with ADHD and found that 95% were deficient in magnesium. (Note that there was no control group - these children were judged to be deficient based on normative data that was used in comparison.) Fifty of these children were assigned to a 6 month trial of magnesium supplementation (200 mg/day) in addition to their usual treatment and 30 children were assigned to receive the typical treatment without magnesium. (It is interesting to note that because stimulants are not available in Poland, the typical medications children are treated with are drugs that would hardly ever be used in the US.) At the end of the trial, the children whose treatment included magnesium supplements showed significant reductions in parent and teacher ratings of ADHD symptoms compared to the children who had not received the supplements.

This type of data suggests that magnesium supplementation may be a useful approach in children with ADHD who are confirmed to be deficient in magnesium to begin with. What percentage of the ADHD population this is is unknown. In addition, it must be noted that the study conducted here would be considered an "open" trial rather than a placebo-controlled double-blind trial. In other words, everyone knew who was receiving the magnesium supplements and who was not. This certainly has the potential to effect the ratings of outcome that parents and teachers provided. The next step, of course, would be to try and replicate these findings using a randomized, placebo-controlled double blind trial. Until such a study is conducted, there would not really be a convincing scientific basis on which to recommend such a treatment. One would also need to be careful about providing extra magnesium to children who are not deficient in magnesium to begin with, because there is some evidence from animal studies that this could have an adverse effect.

I'll be looking for follow-up studies to this interesting work and will let you know about it if such studies are published.

   
 
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