Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affect about 10 million children in the United States. A little more than half of these children take amphetamine-type drugs for ADHD each day.
ADHD is a major concern. A child with ADHD will likely experience academic impairment, increased risk of injuries, and problems with self-esteem and socialization. Later in adolescence and adulthood, those with ADHD have a high risk of experiencing depression or anxiety, substance abuse and addictions, traffic accidents, financial problems, vocational underachievement, and social problems.
While there is little doubt that genetic factors play a role, like most health conditions, environmental and dietary factors appear to play a significant role in how and whether these genetic factors manifest.
Numerous studies have now shown that children with ADHD have lower tissue levels of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) when compared with kids without ADHE. Omega-3 (EPA+DHA) supplementation in ADHD has now been studied extensively and is considered a sensible intervention even by many mainstream physicians. Of particular importance is the recognition that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation improves many symptoms of ADHD including impulsive-oppositional behavior, a symptom not typically helped by the pharmaceutical treatment of ADHD.
To determine the effects of fish oils on literacy and behavior in children with ADHD, 90 children ages 7 to 12 years old were given for four months either four 500-mg capsules per day containing an EPA-rich fish oil providing EPA 1,109 mg and DHA 108 mg, a DHA-rich fish oil providing EPA 264 mg and DHA 1,032 mg, or a safflower oil providing linoleic acid 1,467 mg/d.
The major finding was an increased red blood cell level of DHA was associated with improved reading and lower parent ratings of oppositional behavior. Furthermore, when they examined a subgroup of 17 children with learning difficulties: an increased red blood cell level of DHA was associated with improved word reading, improved spelling, an improved ability to divide attention, and lower parent ratings of oppositional behavior, hyperactivity, restlessness, and overall ADHD symptoms.
This study indicated that raising DHA levels was the key factor. However, it may not be necessary to focus on a high DHA to EPA product. A fish oil providing a more balanced level, e.g., 2:1 EPA to DHA ratio may have shown similar results to the high DHA oil. A dosage of 3,000 mg of such a ratio would provide the same dosage of DHA used in the study.
Milte CM, Parletta N, Buckley JD, Coates AM, Young RM, Howe PR. Eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids, cognition, and behavior in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Nutrition. 2012 Jun;28(6):670-7.