Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a group of behavioural symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. It is the most common behavioural disorder in the UK and is estimated to affect 3-9% of school-aged children and around 2% of adults. Although ADHD has no effect on intelligence, it is common for people suffering with the condition to have difficulties learning.
Interestingly, scientists in Australia have recently found that increased levels of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, may be associated with improved literacy and attention in children with ADHD.
The researchers recruited 90 children with ADHD aged between seven and 12 and randomly assigned them to one of three groups for four months. The first group received a daily dose of an EPA-rich fish oil, the second group, a DHA-rich fish oil and the third group were given dummy pills containing safflower oil. The effect of supplementation on cognition, literacy, and behaviour was assessed using a special rating scale and the results were correlated with blood measures of essential fatty acid status.
When the results were analysed, there were no significant differences between the supplement groups in the primary outcomes after four months. However, the blood fatty acid profiles indicated that an increased proportion of DHA was associated with improved word reading and lower ratings of oppositional behaviour. These effects were more evident in a subgroup of 17 children with learning difficulties, where an increased erythrocyte DHA was associated with improved word reading, improved spelling, an improved ability to divide attention and lower ratings of oppositional behaviour, hyperactivity, restlessness and overall ADHD symptoms. The researchers also noted improved anxiety/shyness in association with increased blood levels of EPA and total omega-3.
“The present study adds to evidence suggesting that increased omega-3 PUFA intake can improve attention, literacy and behaviour problems in some children with ADHD,” commented the researchers, adding that “Given the growing body of evidence, it appears that children with ADHD symptoms and comorbid reading and spelling difficulties may represent a subgroup of responders to omega-3 PUFA supplementation that should be explored in further trials.”