ADHD – an omega-3 deficiency?

GUELPH, ONTARIO, CANADA. The development of an assay for EPA and DHA in red blood cell fatty acids has made possible a number of interesting studies from sudden cardiac death to ADHD.

What are ADHD Symptoms?

ADHD is the most common psychiatric disorder in children and shows high comorbidity with other conditions, which include learning differences, depression, and more. Up to 60% of children with this disorder will experience these symptoms and difficulties into adulthood. An increasing focus on the effects of diet in hyperactivity of children has led researchers to further examine the role of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in ADHD symptoms.

ADHD Symptoms and Omega-3s

In a study from the University of Guelph in Ontario, researchers examined the association between both dietary intake and red blood cell fatty acid status in a group of adolescents diagnosed with ADHD as compared to an age-matched control group. Both groups had similar anthropometric measurements such as weight, height, % fat mass, etc. Both groups consumed equivalent amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, but the ADHD group consumed more energy and fat even though they had similar anthropometry. The ADHD children had significantly lower red blood cell levels of DHA and total omega-3 fatty acids, higher omega-6 fatty acids and a lower omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. In addition, this lower omega-3 status of children with ADHD correlated with scores obtained with a standard behaviour measurement scale (the Conners’ Parent Rating Scale or CPRS).

The authors point out that these abnormal fatty acid profiles are also observed in younger children with ADHD symptoms and again are distinctly different from controls of a similar age. Given that the dietary intakes in this study were similar, the results suggest that there are metabolic differences in fatty acid handling between adolescents who exhibited ADHD symptoms and normal controls. Finally, they provide evidence from other studies that it may be possible to improve behaviour patterns with omega-3 supplements, but the successful studies have used rather large doses (up to 16 g fish oil per day).

Colter, AL, et al. Fatty acid status and behavioural symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in adolescents: A case-control study. Nutrition Journal, Vol. 7, No. 1, February 14, 2008, p. 8

Physician educational resources: psychiatry CME courses covering ADHD and other learning disorders.

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