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An adequate omega-3 fatty acid intake may improve ADHD in children

November 26, 2013

A new Australian study suggests that increasing the omega-3 fatty acid concentrations in red blood cells by dietary supplementation may improve attention, literacy and behavior in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The randomized controlled trial measured the docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) concentrations in red blood cells and behavior of 90 children with ADHD who received EPA-rich fish oil supplements (1,109 mg EPA + 108 mg DHA per day), DHA-rich fish oil supplements (264 mg EPA + 1,032 mg DHA per day) or safflower oil (1,467 mg linoleic acid per day) as control for four months (1). The study results showed that increased red blood cell levels of EPA and DHA in participants supplemented with the omega-3 fatty acids were associated with improvements in spelling, cognitive problems, attention, hyper- activity, and behavior in general. Decreasing the levels of omega-6 fatty acids in favor of omega-3 fatty acids was also seen to improve the ADHD symptoms.

The researchers commented that this study highlights the importance of confirming interventions such as increased nutrient intakes with changes in blood nutrient concentrations. Blood level analyses can confirm and account for a degree of compliance (with treatment and with placebo) and variability in baseline nutrient levels. In an earlier study, for example, a multivitamin/mineral supplementation in habitually violent juvenile offenders showed no effect on violent acts in those in the treatment group whose blood concentration of vitamins and minerals did not change during the study (2). However, the scientists noticed a highly significant reduction in violent acts in participants whose blood concentrations of vitamins and minerals were corrected (increased) during the study.

The researchers added that despite previous suggestions that EPA is superior to DHA, the results from this study suggest that DHA is an important contributor to ADHD improvement. Recent research indicated that increased DHA levels in red blood cells were associated with improved literacy in children with learning difficulties (3).

References

  1. Milte C. M. et al. Increased Erythrocyte Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid Are Associated With Improved Attention and Behavior in Children With ADHD in a Randomized Controlled Three-Way Crossover Trial. Journal of Attention Disorders. Published online November 2013.
  2. Schoenthaler S. et al. The Effect of Randomized Vitamin-Mineral Supplementation on Violent and Non-violent Antisocial Behavior Among Incarcerated Juveniles. Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine. 1997; 7(4):343–352.
  3. Milte C. M. et al. Eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids, cognition, and behavior in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Nutrition. 2012; 28(6):670–677.