On ADHD and Popeye’s Near-Magical Can of Spinach (Or, “Why You Should Consider an Iron-Level Test”)

I am currently reading up on which supplements have been most-proven to be most-effective in treating ADHD symptoms–and I feel like I’m really getting somewhere!

After comparing information from myriad resources, and various perspectives, I’ve narrowed down the most essential ones to these: High EPA Omega-3s (from clinical-quality fish oil,) B vitamins 6 & 12, magnesium, zinc and iron.

Iron was a new one to me. So I decided to read up on that one a bit more. That’s when I stumbled upon an otherwise helpful blog where a mom explained the reasons why she’d basically disregarded the possibility that an iron supplement might help her kid’s ADHD symptoms…and I got distracted. Imagine that.


What distracted me was when her reasoning took a wrong turn. The wrong-turn reasoning went something like this:

One symptom of an iron deficiency is tiredness. So if you’re “hyper” you’re obviously not tired and therefore aren’t displaying symptoms of iron-deficiency. Right?

And if the finger-pokes your child gets at the doctor always come back fine there’s no reason to be worried about their iron level. Right?

No. And no.

A child (or adult) displaying “hyper” ADHD symptoms is not the opposite of displaying symptoms of tiredness. And the finger poke at your check-up does not tell you anything about your iron level.


The so-called “hyperactivity” in ADHD is actually more an expression of lack of automatic impulse control (an executive function that’s affected by the dis-functioning frontal lobe of the ADHD brain) than it is a manifestation of energy. Actually, hyperactive behavior often increases with tiredness–especially in children.

So, hyperactive ≠ “not tired”.

And your hemoglobin level is what they test when you get a finger poke–not your iron level. And while it’s true that a low hemoglobin level often indicates low iron, having low iron will not necessarily cause a low hemoglobin level. Therefore, the only way you can really know anything about your iron level is to get a blood test that actually checks your iron level.

Now, why is it that you might you want to get this test if you have ADHD?

A study published in the 2004 Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that 84% of children with ADHD had significantly lower levels of iron as apposed to only 18% of kids without ADHD. And this is important because (among other big-deal things that it does) iron plays an important role in the brain, affecting production of the key neurotransmitter, dopamine. And dopamine is currently considered the key neurotransmitter involved in ADHD symptoms and symptom-control!

Popeye-732x1024So, the next time you’re having a particularly-bad-ADHD-day–consider all that Popeye got out of that iron-packed can of spinach–and think of making an appointment to find out if an iron supplement may help you.


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