MILAN, ITALY. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a growing problem among adolescents in the western world. Estimates of prevalence vary between 5 and 10% with most victims being boys. The major symptoms of the disorder are difficulty in sustaining attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. There is considerable evidence that ADHD is linked to a fatty acid deficiency and imbalance, specifically a lack of the omega-3 long chain fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and an excess of the omega-6 fatty acid, arachidonic acid (AA). Clinicians at the University of Milan now report that supplementation with fish oils is effective in correcting the fatty acid imbalance and improves the symptoms of ADHD.
Their study involved 16 adolescents between the ages of 3.5 and 16 years who had been diagnosed with ADHD. The study participants received fish oil supplementation for 8 weeks. The fish oil was given at a dose of 250 mg/day/kg bodyweight and contained at least 75% of long chain omega-3 fatty acids with a ratio of EPA to DHA of 2:1. The supplement also contained vitamin E to prevent oxidation of the fatty acids. The average fish oil dosage was 8.5 grams/day.
The researchers measured the AA:EPA ratio in the blood and red blood cells before and after supplementation, and parents evaluated inattention and hyperactivity before and after using the Conner's scale. Before supplementation, the average AA:EPA ratio was 41 as compared to 28 in a group of matched children without ADHD. At the end of the 8-week study period, the ratio had dropped to 4.1. The average inattention score before supplementation was 19 and the hyperactivity score was 20. These values dropped to 13.9 and 15.5 after supplementation indicating a significant improvement.
The Italian researchers speculate that ADHD involves a modification to cell membrane fluidity and architecture caused by an unfavorable AA:EPA ratio, and conclude that fish oil supplementation helps correct this. They also suggest that an elevated AA:EPA ratio may serve as a marker for ADHD.
Germano, M, et al. Plasma, red blood cells phospholipids and clinical evaluation after long chain omega-3 supplementation in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Nutritional Neuroscience, Vol. 10, February/April 2007, pp. 1-9