Is Sunshine Enough? Vitamin D and ADHD 

ADHD Strategies    March 2, 2015

Daily, I take my vitamin B’s, vitamin C, but vitamin D?

Laurie Dupar Vitamin DA couple of years ago a routine blood test showed that I had very low levels of vitamin D. You know, that vitamin that is produced automatically in our bodies when we are in the sunlight? Having lived in sunny California for over a decade, it was one of the health concerns that I had never worried about. However, my low level of vitamin D seemed to concern my doctor… a lot. Apparently research is now uncovering that the importance of vitamin D goes well beyond bone growth, a healthy immune system and calcium absorption. It is starting to be appreciated as an essential micronutrient in the overall wellness of our brains especially in increasing our impulse control, pro social behavior, memory and planning…ADHD symptoms anyone?

Which got me thinking – if I could have vitamin D deficiency living in what most would agree is one of the “vitamin D capitals of the world,” then what about all those people with ADHD who lived where the skies were not always so sunny?

Well, it seems that my vitamin D deficiency is not unusual, even for people in California. In order to get enough vitamin D the “natural way,” you have to live at latitudes below Los Angeles and risk thirty minutes of sun exposure, without sunscreen, twice a week. Something we can bet that the American Academy of Dermatology wouldn’t recommend. So it’s not surprising that approximately 70% of the U.S. population have low vitamin D levels (Patrick & Ames, 2015).

So what’s so important about Vitamin D and ADHD?

Vitamin D was found to be significantly lower in children and adolescents with ADHD (Goksugur, et al, 2014). In our body, vitamin D increases the level of an antioxidant that helps prevent damage to neurons in the brain (similar to how it’s thought that Omega-3 fatty acids seem to improve brain function in people with ADHD). It also helps increase the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain which we know help in the treatment of ADHD and the reduction of ADHD symptoms. Finally, vitamin D is also known to boost the production of another brain chemical called Acetylcholine which helps us maintain focus. As we know inattention and lack of concentration are two of the main symptoms of ADHD.

How to get your vitamin D levels tested

If you are wondering if you have enough vitamin D, check with your doctor. Your doctor can order a test called 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25-OHD). Even though there is still some debate as to how little is too little vitamin D, most experts agree that anyone with a 25-OHD level of less than 15 ng/mL or 37.5 nmol/L needs more vitamin D.

How to get more vitamin D if you need it

Ideally, enough direct sun exposure would provide us naturally with all the vitamin D we need. However, considering the risks, it’s probably a better idea to get vitamin D from either foods or supplements.

There are three vitamin D super foods:

  • Salmon (especially wild-caught)
  • Mackerel (especially wild-caught)
  • Mushrooms (exposed to ultraviolet light)

Other food sources of vitamin D include:

  • Cod liver oil (warning: cod liver oil is rich in vitamin A; too much may be bad for you)
  • Tuna canned in water
  • Sardines canned in oil
  • Milk or yogurt — fortified with vitamin D
  • Beef or calf liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Cheese
  • Orange juice (fortified with Vitamin D)
  • Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals (fortified with Vitamin D)

Currently, Boston University vitamin D expert Michael Holick, MD, PhD recommends a dose of 1,000 IU a day of vitamin D for both children and adults – even if you are getting plenty of safe sun exposure.

The vitamin D Council recommends that healthy adults take 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily — more if they get little or no sun exposure.

Do not give your child vitamin D without having your child’s blood levels tested.

As always, I recommend that you talk to your doctor about supplements and dosages.

It seems all vitamin D is not created equal

Nutritionists recommend taking vitamin D supplements in the form of vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol. This is the natural form of vitamin D that your body makes from sunlight.

Can you take too much vitamin D?

Too much of any good thing can be a bad thing and nearly all vitamin D overdoses come from supplements. Vitamin D is “fat soluble” vitamin, which means extra amount of this vitamin isn’t just eliminated from the body and it can accumulate and become toxic. If you are taking too much vitamin D, it can cause an abnormally high blood calcium level, which could result in nausea, constipation, confusion, abnormal heart rhythm, and even kidney stones.

Again, always be sure to keep your doctor in the loop when it comes to any supplements you may be taking so they can help you monitor and account for it in your overall health plan.

Does vitamin D interact with other medications?

Yes, it seems it does, especially with steroid medications such as prednisone. Always, always…consult with your doctor before taking vitamin D supplements.

There are still many unknowns when it comes to what causes ADHD symptoms. As we continue to search to put together the part of the ADHD puzzle, it seems that we might just be starting to appreciate the role that vitamin D plays in overall mental health, including ADHD.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments.

Goksugur, S. B., Tufan, A. E., Semiz, M., Gunes, C., Bekdas, M., Tosun, M. and Demircioglu, F. (2014), Vitamin D status in children with attention-deficit–hyperactivity disorder. Pediatrics International, 56: 515–519. doi: 10.1111/ped.12286

Rhonda P. Patrick And Bruce N. Ames. Vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids control serotonin synthesis and action, part 2: relevance for ADHD, bipolar, schizophrenia, and impulsive behavior. FASEB Journal, February 2015 DOI: 10.1096/fj.14-268342

DeNoon, Daniel J. (2009) The truth about vitamin D how much D do you need Retrieved February 27, 2014, from http://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/features/the-truth-about-vitamin-d-how-much-vitamin-d-do-you-need

Klein, Sarah. (2014). 7 signs You May Have A Vitamin D Deficiency. Retrieved February 27, from  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/29/vitamin-d-deficiency-signs-symptoms_n_5200408.html

5 Responses to Is Sunshine Enough? Vitamin D and ADHD 

  1. Kathy M     July 29, 2015    5:49 pm    Reply

    Very interesting! My Vitamin D levels are chronically low, even though I take supplements. I never knew Vitamin D and ADD were connected. I’ll be sharing this info with both my MD and my psychiatrist. Thanks!

    • laurie     July 29, 2015    6:15 pm    Reply

      Yep! If they are low it affects our mood, energy and attention. Let me know how it goes. ~ Keep in touch. Laurie

  2. kirsty     October 19, 2015    12:48 pm    Reply

    really interesting. my son has adhd and his meds have been working brilliantly but the colder miserable british weather starting and its seeming to have less of an effect, thinking it may be worth having the doc check his vitamin D levels after reading this. certainly makes sense especially given recent changes in his behaviour

    • Sarah     December 3, 2015    9:56 pm    Reply

      Though vitamin D may be a factor, it’s also possible your son may have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which is more related to the effect of shorter days and decreased light exposure on the neuroendocrine system (brain hormones). SAD can manifest as depression or moodiness. Often the treatment is as easy as getting a special light box that mimics the daylight patterns of summer.

  3. Carol     January 4, 2016    2:33 am    Reply

    Hi my 7 yr old has all the symptons of ADHD how can you know if she has it .

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