Micronutrients help children with ADHD, new research shows
At the age of 9, Isaiah Godfrey was unable to tie his shoe laces and brush his teeth. He had been expelled from six preschools and several schools because of his severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Now 13, he can jump off 10 steps on his skateboard and has caught up on six years of schooling.
His mother, Erica Godfrey, credits micronutrients for his "amazing progress".
Isaiah is one of the many success stories from a University of Canterbury (UC) trial, which found specialist vitamins and minerals reduced aggression and improved emotional regulation in children with ADHD.
The results were published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry on Monday.
When Erica Godfrey heard about the trial in 2013, she thought she had "nothing to lose".
Isaiah's ADHD escalated after the February 2011 earthquakes and his local hospital recommended taking him off medication after an increase in dosage led to heart problems.
Before that, he had tried "all types of ADHD medication you can get" and they made his anxiety worse.
"He became zombified enough to sit in school but the exuberant little boy I knew was gone."
Isaiah also developed a throat tumour, which required surgery every six weeks.
After six months on micronutrients, Isaiah's behaviour improved. He caught up with school and learned to skateboard.
"It's absolutely saved our lives as a family."
Erica Godfrey would not have tried the micronutrients if it was not for the trial, as the cost – about $200 a month – was prohibitive for her family.
After the trial, Godfrey was able to get a psychiatrist to sign a letter for Work and Income to cover the price through a disability allowance.
Researchers, led by UC clinical psychologist Julia Rucklidge, split 93 medication-free children with ADHD aged between 7 and 12 into two groups.
They gave a placebo to one group and micronutrients to the other for 10 weeks. Nearly half of those on micronutrients had improved emotional regulation and reduced aggression.
A third showed clinical improvement on their inattentive symptoms.
"This is a substantial finding as these symptoms can be impairing for families and for schools and to date have been very hard to treat," Rucklidge said.
About 20 per cent did not respond to the nutrients but for those who did, it was often "life changing", she said.
Children were still active, which was not necessarily problematic, especially when they were able to better regulate their emotions and reduce aggression.
ADHD medication was far more effective at reducing hyperactivity and helping children concentrate at school, but could come with strong side effects including sleeping and eating difficulties.
Rucklidge said she was not "anti-medication" – micronutrients were an alternative for families worried about side effects or for children who could not be on medication for health reasons.
Micronutrients were not approved medicines but people could buy them through an Auckland distributor with the permission of their GP, at a cost of up to $200 a month.
"For some families it's unaffordable and that's a painful part for me," Rucklidge said.
Rucklidge applied to Pharmac to have them funded last year, but was turned down.
She had received thousands of emails from people wanting to know more about micronutrients, following media coverage of her research over the years.
Psychiatrists were slowly starting to show interest, but it was a "hard battle" with larger trials needed to convince health authorities.