Can Omega 3 Fatty Acids Help ADHD?

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids. They are critical to brain development and function. Increasing evidence suggests that a relative lack of omega-3 may contribute to many psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders. Theory and experimental evidence support a role for omega-3 in ADHD, dyslexia, developmental coordination disorder (DCD) and autism. Lower levels of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, in blood have repeatedly been associated with a variety of behavioral disorders including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Omega 3 fatty acids are called essential fatty acids because they cannot be synthesized by the body. They have to be supplied in the food. These fatty acids are essential for brain function as well as normal growth and development. There are three major types Acidaburn of omega three fatty acids. They are –

  • Alpha linolenic acid (ALA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

Once consumed, the alpha linolenic acid gets converted in to EPA and DHA in the body. These essential fatty acids are concentrated in the brain. They are very essential for memory and other behavioral functions. Omega 3 fatty acids are also found to have anti-inflammatory effects and hence are useful in the treatment of chronic health conditions like arthritis, heart disease and cancer.

If the diet is deficient in omega 3 fatty acid, symptoms like tiredness, poor memory, dryness of skin, heart problems, depression and mood swings may develop. Dietary supplementation with fish oils appears to alleviate ADHD-related symptoms in children. Fish oil provides EPA and DHA. The sources rich in omega 3 fatty acids are –

  • Fish – Mackerel, lake tout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon, halibut
  • Algae and krill
  • Plants like purslane
  • Nut oil

Children with ADHD show low levels of essential fatty acids in their body. In studies conducted in children with ADHD it was found that these children have lower proportions of arachidonic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. In a study conducted in Australia, it was found that supplementation of polyunsaturated fatty acids like omega 3 fatty acids in children with ADHD symptoms like inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, showed improvement of the symptoms.

Even adolescents who have ADHD have a low level of essential fatty acid in their body. In a research article published in the February 2008 issue of Nutrition Journal, it is mentioned that adolescents with ADHD have significantly lower docosahexaenoic acid and total omega 3 fatty acid in their body.

In a study conducted in Hallowell center, Sudbury, MA and published in the Nutrition Journal, it was found that supplementation of high dose of omega 3 fatty acids like eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid resulted in improvement in the behavior of children who showed symptoms like inattention, hyperactivity, oppositional/defiant behavior, and conduct disorder.

The various mechanisms by which the omega 3 fatty acids are known to influence the functioning of brain and reduce the symptoms of ADHD are –

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