Can Omega Fats Help Kids with ADHD?

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Children with ADHD struggle with inattention, impulsiveness, and problems with learning. And nowhere does their struggle become more apparent than in the classroom.

This is why, as the new school year approaches, parents with children suffering from ADHD should be developing a plan with teachers and doctors for better behavioral management during the school year.

Currently, the conventional approach to treating ADHD relies on prescription medications. For some kids, this is necessary, but for many it is not.

We're actually learning more and more about the role that diet plays in ADHD. And a recent report sheds some light on important essential fats required by the brain for learning and development.

The Brain, Dietary Fats, and ADHD

Dietary fats influence brain development, especially in kids. In particular, the omega fats seem to hold the most promise for helping kids with ADHD. The two omega fats important to our discussion in this post are:

  • Omega-6 Fats — These fats come from plant-based sources like seeds, nuts, and legumes. They are also found in animal protein like beef and poultry.
  • Omega-3 Fats — Of the three main omega fats, the omega-3s have been extensively researched. They come in short-, medium- and long-chain varieties, with the long-chain EPA and DHA probably the most beneficial to humans. They can be found in plants, grass-fed animals, and fish.
The problem is this: Kids in developed countries eat predominantly dairy, beef, and poultry, which means they ingest high amounts of saturated and omega-6 fats but not enough omega-3s.

This inevitably creates an imbalance between dietary fats, which is implicated in attention-deficient and hyperactivity disorders. Re-establishing a healthy ratio of these important fats may help kids with ADHD.

Research on Omega Fats and ADHD

Past research has shown the potential benefit of combining omega-3 and omega-6 fats for managing ADHD. However, because the number of subjects in the randomized control studies were low, any results cannot be considered conclusive.

However, a new randomized, placebo-controlled study1 is bringing us a little closer to making a definitive conclusion. The researchers recruited 94 children with ADHD between 6 and 12 years old. All of them were taking Ritalin, a common ADHD drug, with little effect.

The researchers were interested in seeing if supplementing the children’s diet with omega-3 and omega-6 fats improved the effectiveness of the conventional medication.

The kids were randomized into two groups. One group received a placebo while the other group received a daily supplement providing 295 mg of omega-3s from fish and 180 mg of omega-6s from primrose oil. The ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fat was 1.6 to 1 — which would be a major improvement over the typical American diet.

After the children received six months of treatment, teachers and parents noted significant improvements with inattention, impulsiveness, and cooperation. However, both groups remained easily distracted during a normal classroom day.

Regardless, this is a major find and a big step in the right direction — not having to increase the child’s dose of Ritalin.

The researchers were very excited about the results, noting the improvements are very encouraging. As a matter of fact, they concluded, “It is possible to infer from the results that the participants of the study may have benefitted further if treatment with omega-3 and omega-6 had been continued.”

Please note: This study was conducted in Sri-Lanka, where a typical child’s diet consists of less saturated fat and a better balance of omega-3 to omega-6 than a typical American child’s diet. Nevertheless, the results are significant and encouraging.

Your Kid’s Diet Makes a Difference

Balancing your child’s diet with fish and grass-fed animal protein is a great place to start. But we know that many kids don’t like fish.

If this is the case, giving them a daily Omega-3 supplement may be your only option. If you need help finding a “kid-friendly omega fat supplement, speak with your doctor or call one of our advisors at 1-800-226-2370 and they can help you find one.

ADHD is proving to be manageable with diet alone or with a combination of diet and medicine, potentially at lower and lower doses. This is a good thing because a lower dose of Ritalin will likely have fewer side effects.

Something else that may help is our article covering a dietary approach for autism. Some of the suggestions there may apply to ADHD as well.

References:

  1. J Child Neurol. 2012;27(6):747-753.
    (http://jcn.sagepub.com/content/27/6/747.abstract)

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2 comments:

Caryn Talty said...

Yes. Omega 3 fatty acids are fantastic for ADHD symptoms. B complex is also important, too. Omega 3 is found in flax oil and chia, too.

LifeExtension said...

We agree. B vitamins are very important too. Thanks for chiming in!

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