Omega-3s For ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, starts in childhood and can last into adulthood. This neurodevelopmental disorder is characterized by inability to pay attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. Some people may exhibit primarily one of these symptoms while others may show a mix of all three. Treatments typically include medication and behavior therapy but may be ineffective for many. There is a growing interest in natural therapies, such as diet modifications and the use of supplements. One such supplement that shows promise is omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Brain Health
Omega-3 fatty acids concentrate particularly heavily in the brain and they are necessary for normal development and function of this vital organ. So, it makes sense that supplementing with these fats has the potential to help ADHD and any other condition linked to the brain. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports studies have shown omega-3 supplements were helpful in treating symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Some studies, however, did not find benefit.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and ADHD
A review of studies published in the April 2006 issue of International Review of Psychiatry reports growing evidence that a lack of these critical fats may be a cause of psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders, such as ADHD. Their review suggests that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation may play a role in treating this condition but that larger scale trials are needed. Since this review, results have been similar in that they are mixed.
One study in particular, published in the March 2009 issue of Journal of Attention Disorders suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may work well in particular subgroups of ADHD sufferers. The study tested supplements on 75 children and adolescents and found that a majority had no response to the treatment. Forty seven percent of one particular subgroup, however, responded with at least a 25 percent reduction of symptoms. The group that seemed most responsive was children who primarily exhibited symptoms of inattentiveness.
Like the role of many other supplements in addressing a particular health condition, the evidence is not clear-cut.
Considerations for Supplementing with Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a generally safe supplement when used properly so it cannot hurt to experiment. Adults are advised against taking more than 3,000 milligrams daily without consulting a doctor first. If you take blood-thinning medications, or have a bleeding disorder, omega-3 fatty acids may be inappropriate.  Time-released preparations may help reduce side effects associated with these supplements such as belching, bloating and gas.
If you are interested in treating your child with omega-3 fatty acids, talk to your pediatrician first. They can offer guidance on the appropriate dosage and safe use.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Diet
Good food sources include salmon and other fatty fish. Plant sources include walnuts, walnut oil, flax seed, flax seed oil, pumpkin seed, pumpkin seed oil, soybeans and soybean oil.
Closing Thoughts
Given the role omega-3 fatty acids play in general brain health, experimenting with supplementation may be a good idea. At worst, it will not work, but it does not hurt to try. There are so many variables that come into play that determine if a particular supplement will work for a particular person and we are probably not even close to knowing what they all are. One thing to remember about using supplements and other natural strategies is that you must have patience. You may not see effects from supplements for at least a couple of months.

  • Photo Credit

Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who specializes in health and wellness content. Visit to learn more about omega-3 fatty acids and ADHD.