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.