Zinc Deficiency Causes ADHD and Depression

Posted on Oct 21, 2008 in Heavy Metals

With all the disclosures about funding received from the drug companies by “unbiased” research teams at major universities, it is not surprising that many of these studies have determined that a drug produced by the funding drug company is “beneficial” but none of them cure the actual cause. Of course, these studies also pointed out the serious side effects of most of these drugs, while also concluding that the drug manufactured by the drug company paying for the research was worth the risk.

However, there is still research being done into treating not the symptoms but the actual cause of illness or body malfunction. Often this research has been sponsored by the United Nations which is addressing problems in countries where the funds are not available to buy high-priced drugs that really only treat symptoms and cause many other side effects. Zinc deficiency has been investigated for many years, but as the need to find a cure for many conditions and symptoms is being demanded by more patients, many more studies are being done. In this newsletter we will discuss zinc and zinc deficiency.


Ancient Egyptian texts advocate the use of zinc, and it has continued to be recommended for help in the treatment of a number of diseases and conditions. Zinc is one of 14 essential minerals that are considered necessary for the proper function of the body. The essential minerals are:

• Calcium

• Chromium

• Copper

• Fluorine

• Iodine

• Iron

• Magnesium

• Manganese

• Molybdenum

• Phosphorus

• Potassium

• Selenium

• Sodium

• Zinc

Scientists have shown that zinc stimulates the activity of at least 100 enzymes–substances that promote reactions in our body– and many scientists say that the number of enzymes may be as high as 300. Some medical researchers believe that zinc acts as a neurotransmitter and if zinc levels are too low, this could be a cause of abnormal behavior.



Many parents have felt that tightening of their stomach when they received the call from their children’s school telling them that their child had ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or ADD (attention deficit disorder). The normal solution from the school is not to have the child taken to a doctor and tested for any physical problems but to put them on a drug that is chemically similar to cocaine.

Many doctors have shown that children presenting the supposed symptoms of ADHD or ADD were actually suffering from real physical problems. Sometimes these children simply required a diet change because they were allergic to certain foods. Sometimes they were just ingesting too much sugar. Other times they were found to have thyroid problems or other medical problems.

Other children have had problems with zinc or other essential metals. Once treated effectively, the cause of the symptoms was no longer present and the symptoms of ADHD and ADD were gone-all without using these dangerous drugs.

“Zinc deficiency mimics symptoms of ADHD,” said Dr. L. Eugene Arnold, a child psychiatrist at Ohio State’s Nisonger Center.” He continued, “Preliminary work suggests the ADHD population may have a higher prevalence of marginal zinc deficiency.”

Zinc Deficiency In Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder was published in Biological Psychiatry in1996. 43 children aged between 6 and 16 years of age (average age 10) who had been labeled as having ADHD were compared with 28 other non-ADHD labeled children who were matched for age and sex.

The study found that zinc levels in the ADHD group were significantly lower than in the non-ADHD labeled group. The authors concluded, “Zinc is an essential co-factor in a huge number of different processes in the brain and body. With respect to ADHD symptoms, the authors point out that zinc deficiencies have been linked to a ‘hyperadrenal’ syndrome (overworked adrenals) and also with reduced production of melatonin and serotonin, either of which could plausibly contribute to the kinds of behavioral disturbances found in ADHD.”

Instead of meekly agreeing to give your child Ritalin or Adderall, insist that you be allowed to have your child examined by a competent medical doctor who is looking for the cause of your child’s symptoms-if there really is a problem. One of the things that the doctor should investigate is whether there is a zinc or other metal deficiency.


The drug company labels for antidepressants admit that they are not sure how these drugs actually work. Unlike other medical conditions, there are no medical tests to determine if someone has a deficiency in the chemicals that the antidepressants are intended to increase. In addition, as we demonstrated in last week’s newsletter, many of the symptoms of depression are identical to the symptoms of a low thyroid condition.

However, more researchers are concluding that there is a strong link between zinc deficiency and depression. A recent paper by N.M. Tassabehji, R.S. Corniola, A. Alshingiti, and C.W. Levenson for the Department of Nutrition, Food & Exercise Sciences at Florida State University stated, “There is mounting evidence suggesting a link between serum zinc levels and clinical depression.” (Serum is the clear watery fluid that separates from clotted blood.)

In an article entitled The Adverse Effects Of Zinc Deficiency by Tuula E. Tuormaa that was published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, in1995, (orthomolecular refers to a holistic approach to medicine that attempts to treat the body with natural substances) Tuormaa summarized the results of many medical studies on the effects of zinc deficiency and “mental” problems.

The following are some of the conclusions of the studies cited by Tuormaa:

• A variety of mental and behavioral changes have also been associated with zinc deficiency in humans, including apathy, lethargy, amnesia, irritability, depression and paranoia, as well as mental retardation. (A.S. Prasad, P. Rabbani, A. Abbash: Experimental zinc deficiency in humans. Annals of Internal Medicine)

• Low zinc levels were found in 112 acute psychiatric patients. (D. Sprinivasan, S. Marr, R. Wareign, et al: Magnesium, zinc and copper in acute psychiatric patients. Magnesium Bulletin, published in 1982.

• In children, zinc deficiency has been associated with mental retardation (D. Dantford, J. Smith, A. Huber: Pica and Mineral Status in the Mentally Retarded. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published in 1982.)

• Heavy metal toxicity, drug intoxication, hypothyroidism, cerebral (brain) allergy, wheat-gluten sensitivity, hypoglycemia, folic acid/vitamin B12 deficiency can produce symptoms known as schizophrenia. (C. C. Pfeiffer and S. LaMola: Zinc and Manganese in the Schizophrenias. Journal of Orthomolecular Psychiatry published in1983.)

In an article entitled Zinc Deficiency, Metal Metabolism, And Behavior Disorders written by William Walsh and published by the Health Research Institute, Walsh states, “Many of the patients of the Carl Pfeiffer Treatment Center suffer from behavior disorders. The most common ones are attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and conduct disorder (CD). These patients typically have a history of extensive counseling and multiple medications and many have experienced residential care.”

Walsh continues, “A high percentage of behavior disordered persons exhibit abnormal levels of copper, zinc, lead, cadmium, calcium, magnesium and manganese in blood, urine, and tissues, based on chemical analysis results from thousands of patients…Most of these patients have symptoms of zinc deficiency along with depressed levels of zinc in their blood plasma.”

One of the most frightening side effects of antidepressants is violence. Walsh refers to a study of more than 4,000 behavior patients and concluded that lower levels of zinc increased violence in males. (W.J. Walsh, H.R. Isaacson, F. Rahman, A. Hall, and I.J. Young, “Elevated blood copper:zinc ratios in assaultive young males”, Neuroscience Annual Meeting, Abstract of Papers, Miami Beach, 1994.)

Walsh concludes, “We find that zinc deficient individuals usually respond well to inexpensive supplementation with zinc and augmenting nutrients. Many patients who previously experienced years of counseling, psychotherapy, aggressive medication programs, and/or residential treatment become greatly improved and respond to less intensive (and less expensive) therapies. Zinc deficiency can be corrected, but not cured. If treatment is discontinued, the prior zinc deficiency will reemerge with all symptoms gradually returning. Zinc deficiency, like diabetes, requires life long treatment. Fortunately, it is a simple, low cost, safe treatment.”

In light of the studies cited above and the countless more cited in previous newsletters and on the web, how can anyone blindly take an antidepressant or antipsychotic drug without first determining that they are not zinc deficient? Is it not negligence if a doctor prescribes one of these drugs without first ascertaining if there is a physical cause?

There are a number of other diseases or conditions that have been associated with zinc deficiency. Some of these are:

• Skin conditions like eczema, acne, and/or psoriasis

• Slow wound healing

• Leg ulcers

• Growth retardation

• Frequent infections (zinc is required for the development and activation of a white blood cell that helps fight infection.)

• Problems during pregnancy

• Lactation problems after pregnancy

• Vision problems-particularly with older people


Our body gets zinc from supplements we take and from the food we eat. While most of us get the majority of our zinc from eating red meat and poultry, zinc is found In many foods. Oysters, beans, nuts, whole grains and dairy products all contain zinc. However, some studies have concluded that vegetarians should be especially attentive to zinc deficiency because it is likely that they are not getting sufficient zinc.


As we all know, our DNA and metabolism are each different. Too much zinc for one of us is too little for another. While many recommend that adults consume 11 milligrams per day, this may or may not be enough for everyone. For example, if someone is taking iron for anemia, this may be reducing the body’s ability to absorb zinc.

However, there have been many cases of zinc toxicity. If we absorb more zinc that we need, then we can have health problems. This is why it is important that a person not try to self-medicate and just start taking more zinc.


The simple answer is that it is complicated. There is no single laboratory test that is always accurate. Zinc serum levels may appear normal but may not be in fact. Some practitioners use urine and hair tests but these can also be misleading. Most doctors generally use several different tests and also look to see if some of the symptoms of zinc deficiency are reduced if given zinc supplements. There are more tests being developed and, in combination and in the hands of a good doctor, can provide indications of zinc deficiency and the proper means to correct the problem.


Sometimes it seems that most of us don’t want a simple solution. Much of this information about zinc has been known for decades. Yet, the marketing power of the drug companies drowns out common sense approaches.

How many of us have learned the hard way that when an electronic device is reported to not be working, that we check to see if it is plugged in or if the batteries have been removed or gone bad? Few things are more embarrassing than calling a repairman who finally arrives and politely informs us that it was a breaker switch or the device was not plugged in firmly.

As we tell our patients who arrive at Novus to medically detox from OxyContin, oxycodone, Vicodin, methadone, heroin, alcohol, antidepressants or benzodiazepines like Xanax, they need to go for further treatment after they complete their detox program. If it is someone who is addicted, then they should go to a rehab facility and then go to a medical doctor who will do a thorough physical exam and look for the real physical cause. If it is someone who is just dependent, then they should go directly to the medical doctor.

None of our problems can be solved by treating only the symptoms. Just like no amount of working on an unplugged television will overcome the problem of it not being plugged into an electrical outlet, we need to confront this and decide that if we really want to handle our problems we have to find the real cause.