Natural Foods Merchandiser

Science Beat

Zinc Improves Symptoms of Attention Disorder in Children
Taking zinc supplements can improve the symptoms of attention deficit?hyperactivity disorder in children, according to a study published in Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry.

Stimulant medications are the most common treatment for ADHD, but many people do not benefit from stimulants or experience intolerable side effects. Dietary changes and nutritional supplements have also been used to treat ADHD, but there is little research evaluating these approaches. Several studies have found that children with ADHD are more likely to be zinc-deficient than other children. Supplementing with sources of essential fatty acids, such as evening primrose oil, has also been found by some studies to benefit people with ADHD, and some of these results suggest a link between zinc deficiency and low EFA levels.

In the current study, 400 otherwise healthy children diagnosed with ADHD were randomly assigned to receive either 40 mg of zinc (as zinc sulfate) per day or placebo for 12 weeks. All of the participants were evaluated at the beginning of the study, and after one, four and 12 weeks of treatment using scales to measure attention, hyperactivity, impulsiveness and impaired socialization. They also had blood drawn to measure levels of zinc and free fatty acids at the beginning of the study and after 12 weeks of treatment.

At the four-week evaluation, the average total ADHD score had improved significantly in the children given zinc compared with the children given placebo. At the 12-week evaluation, the improvement in the zinc group relative to the placebo group was even more pronounced. Finally, levels of free fatty acids increased significantly in the children treated with zinc, while no change was seen in the children given placebo.

The results of this study demonstrate a potential role for zinc in the treatment of ADHD. Further research is needed to compare the effects of zinc with those of stimulant medications and to examine the combined effect of zinc and other nutritional supplements on ADHD symptoms.

B Vitamins Help Thinning Bones
The results of two new studies suggest that taking folic acid and other B vitamins can substantially reduce the risk of bone fractures due to bone thinning, or osteoporosis. These studies, published in the May 13 New England Journal of Medicine, provide indirect evidence that B vitamins may be at least as important as calcium for preventing age-related fractures.

The new studies examined the relationship between the risk of developing fractures and blood levels of homocysteine, a breakdown product of the essential amino acid methionine. High homocysteine levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. In addition, homocysteine is believed to contribute to osteoporosis development because people with a rare genetic disease that causes their homocysteine levels to skyrocket develop severe osteoporosis at a young age. The body is capable of destroying homocysteine by several different biochemical pathways, each of which depends on the presence of folic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 or betaine (a vitamin-like compound present in whole wheat, spinach and some other foods).

Homocysteine blood levels were measured in 4,405 people aged 55 years or older, who were then followed for up to 15 years. One of the studies assessed the risk of all osteoporosis-related fractures, while the other looked only at hip fracture risk. In both studies the results were similar: People with the highest homocysteine levels had nearly twice the fracture risk of people with lower levels. The researchers estimated that nearly one-fifth of all age-related fractures are caused by elevated homocysteine levels.

One of the studies measured bone mineral density of the hip and spine, and found, surprisingly, that homocysteine levels were not related to bone mineral density. In other words, homocysteine appears to impair bone health in a way that is unrelated to bone mineral density. Some researchers believe that homocysteine damages bones by interfering with normal collagen production. Numerous studies have shown that folic acid, vitamins B6 and B12, and betaine can reduce blood levels of homocysteine. So increasing one?s intake of these nutrients might also prevent age-related fractures.

Maureen Williams, N.D., has a private practice in Quechee, Vt. Alan R. Gaby, M.D., is the chief medical editor for Healthnotes Inc.

Copyright ? 2004 Healthnotes Inc.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 7/p. 57

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