WEST LAFAYETTE, INDIANA. It is estimated that 3-5% of the school-age population in the United States suffer from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Prominent symptoms of this disorder are a poor attention span, inability to complete tasks, hyperactivity, and a tendency to interrupt others. Almost one quarter of children with ADHD also suffer from one or more specific learning disabilities in math, spelling or reading.
A study first reported in 1995 linked ADHD to a deficiency of certain long-chain fatty acids. These acids (arachidonic, eiscosapentaenoic, and docosahexaenoic acids) are all metabolites of the two essential fatty acids, linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3). Researchers at Purdue University are now leaning towards the conclusion that a subclinical deficiency in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is responsible for the abnormal behaviour of children with ADHD. They point out that supplementation with a long-chain omega-6 fatty acid (evening primrose oil) has been unsuccessful in ameliorating ADHD and believe this is because ADHD-children need more omega-3 fatty acids rather than more omega-6 acids. The researchers also found that children with ADHD were breast fed less often as infants than were children without ADHD. Breast milk is an excellent source of DHA. A study is now underway to investigate the effect of oral supplementation with DHA on the behaviour of ADHD-children.
Burgess, John R., et al. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 71 (suppl), January 2000, pp. 327S- 30S