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014 - Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, & Attention Issues

posted Nov 11, 2015, 12:47 PM by Doug Muha

Counselor Notes 14

December 20, 2013

Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, & Attention Issues

 In the last issue of Counselor Notes, I brought up the issue of dietary iron and its connection to attention.   While iron has its place it isn’t actually one of the ADHD and Autism Nutritional Supplement Handbook’s “quick start” supplements.  The six dietary supplements they note for having the biggest benefit and fewest side effects are: magnesium, zinc, Vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, pro-biotics, and multivitamins.  Probiotics and omega three fatty acids were discussed in previous Counselor Notes so I’ll start with magnesium and zinc here.  (Body levels of magnesium, zinc, and calcium are inter-related and thus supplements of them are generally sold together.  Thus I will add notes on calcium here too.)  I’ll address the others and update the previous notes on omega 3 fatty acids and probiotics after the holidays.

In looking at diet, I am not trying to say that a poor diet is the cause of all attention problems, but does anyone want to make the case that it makes things better?    My hope is that by looking at issues in a child’s diet, parents may find some areas to modify.  If over time, parent try a number of different things and some work a little, each of those “little” improvements add up to making a positive and noticeable change.  Please keep in mind adding too much of a vitamin/mineral supplementation to a child’s diet can be toxic.  It is wise to consult with a doctor or nutritional expert before embarking on a program of vitamin or mineral supplementation.  (I am neither a doctor or nutritional expert.)

Before jumping into the notes on magnesium and zinc, I would add this:

“… it is important to note that just because low levels of a particular nutrient are seen alongside the disorder, it does not necessarily mean that this deficiency is the cause of ADHD (i.e. correlation does not imply causation). In other words, the nutrient deficiency and ADHD symptoms might both be secondary effects of a larger primary cause, such as an enzyme deficiency or metabolic dysfunction.”  http://adhd-treatment-options.blogspot.com/2010/03/adhd-and-vitamin-d-deficiency-any.html    

That all being said, here are some notes I have on magnesium and zinc (and calcium) as they relate to attention:

From The A.D.D. Nutrition Solution by Marcia Zimmerman  ISBN# 0-8050-6128-2


¡  “…the USDA reports that 30% of Americans, including children are low in calcium, magnesium, zinc and other trace minerals.”  (p. 148)

¡  “Calcium is a second messenger in neuronal membranes, which means it acts like a traffic signal for uptake and release of neurotransmitters.”  (p. 148)

¡  “…calcium regulates the speed, intensity, and clarity of every message that passes between brain cells.”  (p. 148)

¡  “In 1997, a Polish research team … assessed the magnesium levels of 116 children with AD/HD…. They found low magnesium levels in 95% of the children….”  (p. 148)

¡  “The (magnesium) supplemented children showed an increase in body tissue and a decrease in hyperactivity.”  (p. 149)

¡  “… zinc also acts on the surface of neurons as an electrical “contact” for neurotransmission, and it helps convert serotonin into melatonin, which is an important regulator of bio-rhythms.”  (p. 148)

¡  “They (researchers in Poland and Israel) found serum zinc levels were significantly lower in the AD/HD group, averaging two-thirds the level of those without AD/HD.”  (p. 149)

¡  “All of these neurotransmitters (dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and acetylcholine) are synthesized in the brain from dietary precursors.  In order for this to occur, vitamin B6, magnesium, zinc, ascorbate, biotin, folic acid and niacin all must be present.”  (p. 153)

From Children With Starving Brains by Jacquelyn McCandess   (ISBN # 1-883647-10-X)


¡  “While no patient has been 'cured' with the vitamin B6 and magnesium treatments, many patients report the treatments produced calming effects and resulted in improved, more normal behavior.”  p. 123

¡  “Zinc is present in over 200 body enzymes, and its deficiency results in a weakened immune system.  It is well know that most ASD children [ASD is autism spectrum disorders of which McCandess would include ADHD] are deficient in zinc and excessive diarrhea is known to be one of the leading causes of zinc depletion.”  p. 123 – 124

¡  “... children with ASD have abnormal copper and zinc levels in their blood.  Since MT [Metallothionein] has an important role in regulating the balance of copper and zinc in healthy individuals, the fact that 99% of the patients in the Pfeiffer Treatment Center study had copper/zinc imbalances supports MT dysfunction as an important part of ASD pathology.”  p. 33   (Here is the link to the Pfeiffer Treatment Center: http://www.hriptc.org/index.php   Don’t supplement copper or  MT on your own.) 

¡  “Zinc is present in over 200 body enzymes, and its deficiency results in a weakened immune system.  It is well know that most ASD (autism spectrum disorders - which includes ADHD) children are deficient in zinc....” 

From The ADHD and Autism Nutritional Supplement Handbook by Dana Godbout Laake R.D.H., L.D.N. and Pamela Compart M.D. ISBN # 978-59233-517-6:


“Zinc deficiency can result in poor attention and other problems that can contribute to inattention: poor eye contact, developmental delays, sensory deficits, vision dysfunction, auditory processing problems, communication delays, and poor glucose control.  Other symptoms of zinc deficiency include poor muscle endurance, growth delays, and picky appetite.”

“Zinc deficiency can stem from poor intake, higher needs, and/or depletion by a glycemic diet, medications, or toxins,  Zinc is part fo the insulin molecule and depleted by diets that are glycemic (raise blood sugar quickly).  Low zinc levels lead to poor appetite for healthy foods and an increased appetite for the “quick fix” foods (e.g. pasta breads, crackers, pretzels, sweets, sodas, and juices.” (p. 52)


“Magnesium is needed for more than 350 biomedical reactions in the body, affecting 75% of enzyme functions.  Magnesium is critical to neurotransmitter function, core energy metabolism, hormone metabolism, protein synthesis, cell membrane function, blood pressure regulation, calcium metabolism, muscle function, bowel function, and memory.”

“A person deficient in magnesium may experience neuromuscular excitability, which can lead to hyperactivity, distractibility, impulsivity, muscle spasms, and poor sleep quality.  Magnesium is a common nutritional deficiency in children with ADHD or autism and in the general population.”  (p. 19)


From Food and Mood by Elizabeth Somer ISBN # 0-8050-3125-1

·         “In 1997, a Polish research team … assessed the magnesium levels of 116 children with AD/HD…. They found low magnesium levels in 95% of the children….” 

From Healing ADD by Daniel Amen M.D ISBN # 0-425-18327-0

·          “Joseph Egger reported in the British medical journal Lancet that 116 of 185 hyperactive children had a positive response to a low allergen diet (higher in protein and lower in simple carbohydrates) supplemented by calcium, zinc, magnesium, and vitamins.”  (p. 224)

From Healing the New Childhood Epidemics  by Kenneth Bock, M.D. and Cameron Stauth  ISBN # 978-0-345-49451-1 

·         “Calcium and magnesium, working together, tend to have a calming effect, and can sometimes help provide relief from the anxiety and insomnia that are common among 4-A kids.”  (p. 219)

 And a few other notes from various sources (Do we need to be wary of colas and high fructose corn syrup?)

¡  “In humans, fructose feeding leads to mineral losses, especially higher fecal excretions of iron and magnesium, than did subjects fed sucrose. Iron, magnesium, calcium, and zinc balances tended to be more negative during the fructose-feeding period as compared to balances during the sucrose-feeding period.” http://www.westonaprice.org/The-Double-Danger-of-High-Fructose-Corn-Syrup.html

¡  “Almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient, according to two new U.S. studies. “   http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/26/AR2009012601831.html 

¡  Colas contain phosphoric acid which lowers the body levels of calcium, zinc and magnesium.  -http://www.blisstree.com/healthbolt/what-happens-to-your-body-if-you-drink-a-coke-right-now/ 

¡  “Grace Wyshak, Ph.D, a biostatician and the study's lead researcher believes that something in colas is interfering with the body's ability to use calcium.” http://www.prevention.com/health/diabetes/drinking-soda-4-reasons-stop-soda-consumption

¡  Magnesium, zinc, and calcium make up 3 of the 5 most important minerals according to:http://www.self.com/blogs/flash/2011/07/the-5-minerals-you-really-need.html  (Iron makes the list too.)

¡  Some studies suggest that children with ADHD may have lower levels of zinc in their body. And some scientists have reported improved symptoms in children with ADHD who took zinc supplements along with traditional ADHD treatment.  Several studies have shown a reduction in hyperactivity and impulsivity with zinc supplementation. The same studies, though, report no change in inattentiveness, which is another key symptom of ADHD. A 2005 study in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, though, did show a correlation between zinc levels and teacher- and parent-rated inattention in children. http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/guide/vitamins-supplements-adhd

Best dietary sources of:

¡  magnesium: http://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/foods-high-in-magnesium.php

¡  zinc: http://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/zinc.php 

¡  calcium: http://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/foods-high-in-calcium.php


Okay, there is a lot here.  Clearly most of it is going to be getting a bit over most of our heads (so-to-speak).  My intention is not that parents go out and try to become nutritional experts (though improving one’s knowledge may not be a bad idea), it is my hope that parents go through this and decide for themselves if there is or is not something here.  If they decide there may well be, then those parents make basic changes in their children’s diets and start working with a qualified health professional who can help direct them in further steps to take.

Doug Muha Ed.S.
School Counselor
Waverly Elementary School