WEST LAFAYETTE, INDIANA. Children with ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) can be inattentive, impulsive, and hyperactive. Whereas the cause is unknown, researchers at Purdue University have reported that hyperactive children with ADHD have lower levels of essential fatty acids in their blood than do normal children.
What is Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
Kids with ADHD commonly exhibit behaviors that may severely affect school performance, family relationships, and social interactions with peers. ADHD may affect 3 to 5% of the school-age population, with boys more commonly identified with the disorder than girls. The cause is thought to be biological and multifactorial, and include the possibility of genetic factors or food sensitivities. Stimulant drugs, which have an effectiveness rate of approximately 75%, are often prescribed to calm kids with ADHD. This study’s focus was on essential fatty acid metabolism in children, specifically boys, with ADHD.
What are Essential Fatty Acids?
Fatty acids are important to structural components of all cell membranes. Because they are not produced naturally within the body, it is your responsibility to ensure that you are getting enough in your diet. The two types of essential fatty acids are omega-3 and omega-6. Omega-3 assists in your body’s cell activity and helps your organs maintain proper functions. Omega-6 helps your body treat arthritis, fight cancer cells, and cure skin diseases. Most people actually do get enough Omega-6 in their diet, but eating foods high in sugar and trans fats lower the body’s Omaga-6 levels.
Essential Fatty Acid Metabolism and Children with ADHD
This experiment involved 53 boys aged 6 to 12 years of age who suffered from ADHD, but were otherwise healthy, and 43 matched controls. Analyses showed that the boys with ADHD had significantly lower levels of arachidonic (omega-6), eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic (both omega-3) acids in their blood. The hyperactive children with ADHD suffered more from symptoms associated with essential fatty acid deficiency (thirst, frequent urination, and dry hair and skin) and were also much more likely to have asthma and to have had many ear infections and used more antibiotics since birth than the control subjects. The researchers concluded that ADHD may be linked to a low intake of omega-3 fatty acids (linolenic, eicosapentaenoic, and docosahexaenoic acids) or a poorer ability to convert 18-carbon fatty acids to longer more highly unsaturated acids. The researchers concluded that supplementation with the missing fatty acids may be a useful treatment for hyperactivity.
Stevens, Laura J., et al. Essential fatty acid metabolism in boys with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 62, No. 4, October 1995, pp. 761-68