A vitamin-mineral treatment could help kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Kiwi-led research suggests.

ADHD is estimated to affect 2 to 5 per cent of all children, with boys three times more likely to be diagnosed with it.

Despite decades of research, its exact cause remains unknown.

A team led by University of Canterbury clinical psychologist Professor Julia Rucklidge has been carrying out a large, placebo-controlled trial to investigate what effects micronutrients have on the regulation of aggression and emotion in children with ADHD.

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The programme involved the first fully blinded, randomised, controlled trial of medication-free children with ADHD, who were assigned to either micronutrients or a placebo for 10 weeks.

That approach had previously been limited to open-label studies, which had shown promise.

In a new study, clinicians, parents and teachers reported how those
children on micronutrients showed greater improvements in emotional regulation, aggression and general functioning compared with those on the placebo.

"While the children still displayed some hyperactivity and impulsivity on micronutrients, they were less anxious, slept better, their appetites were not suppressed, and their attention improved," Rucklidge said.

Irritable, angry and moody children could be "extremely difficult" for parents, and the paper had shown nutrients could lower the intensity and frequency of those problems.

"It's an intervention that addresses debilitating symptoms in children that often lead to poor long-term outcomes for them."

While pharmacological treatments could reduce ADHD symptoms, these could come with side effects, or often weren't continued.

The study team - which included researchers from Otago University, the Canterbury District Health Board and the US-based Oregon Health and Science University - have just published their findings in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.