ADHD - Fish oil (Omega 3) and ADHD

Fish oil (Omega 3) and ADHD


Science has discovered that the type of dietary fat (monosaturated, saturated, polyunsaturated) we consume alters the production of an important group of biological compounds known as eicosanoids. These compounds affect blood pressure, blood clotting, inflammation, immune function and coronary spasms.

Omega 3 oils produce a series of eicosanoids that have been shown to decrease the risk for heart disease, inflammatory processes and certain cancers. Omega 3 provide additional heart-healthy benefits by:
-Decreasing blood lipids (cholesterol, LDL's, and triglycerides)
-Decreasing blood clotting factors
-Increasing beneficial relaxation in larger arteries and blood vessels
-Decreasing inflammatory processes in blood vessels

Many modern diets aren't high enough in omega 3 oils to realize optimum health benefits. However, simply including seafood in the diet two to four times a week, most people can improve their health. Alaska Salmon is one of the cold water seafoods particularly high in these "good fats." Sockeye salmon has the highest amount of omega 3 of any fish: about 2.7 grams per 100 gram portion.

"ADHD children also tend to have more allergies, eczema, asthma, headaches, stomachaches, ear infections and dry skin than non-ADHD youngsters," note Donald Rudin, M.D. and Clara Felix, authors of Omega-3 Oils: A practical Guide (Avery 1996). Both Rudin and Felix claim that these problems, including ADHD, are part of a modernization-disease syndrome, which arises from malnutrition centered on an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency.

Their contention is supported by growing scientific evidence. The connection between omega-3 fatty acid deficiency and ADHD has been confirmed by studies in which youngsters with ADHD, when compared with non-ADHD children had much lower blood levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid necessary for normal function of the eyes and the cerebral cortex (the brain region that handles higher functions such as reasoning and memory).

Scientific Evidence

Two types of fatty acids are considered essential. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids cannot be synthesized in the body, and must be obtained from the diet. The omega-6 fatty acids are distributed evenly in most tissues and easily obtained through food sources commonly found in the American diet, but omega-3 fatty acids are concentrated in a few tissues including the brain. Because of their relative scarceness in the American diet, many children - perhaps the majority of children today - are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. Learning specialists now believe omega-3 fatty acid deficiency leads to unique symptoms during childhood, including behavioral problems. The evidence is certainly suggestive:

  • In 1981, researchers first hypothesized that children with ADHD may have reduced nutritional status of essential fatty acids because they showed greater thirst (a symptom of essential fatty acid deficiency) compared to children without ADHD.
  • These results were further confirmed in 1983. When essential fatty acids were examined in 23 maladjusted children and 20 normal children, essential fatty acid blood levels in poorly behaved children were significantly lower.
  • In 1987, researchers further documented that 48 children with ADHD reported significantly greater thirst, more frequent urination, and more health and learning problems than children without ADHD. Significantly lower levels of two omega-6 fatty acids and one omega-3 fatty acid (DHA) were found in the subjects with ADHD symptoms.
  • In a 1995 study comparing plasma essential fatty acid levels in 53 boys with ADHD to a control group of 43 boys without ADHD, researchers found significantly lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • In the April - May 1996 issue of physiology & Behavior , Laura J. Stevens, of the Department of Foods and Nutrition, purdue University, and co-investigators reported that boys with lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood showed more problems with behavior, learning, and health than those with higher levels of total omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Also, in 1996, researchers from the Department of psychiatry, Technical University, Faculty of Medicine, Trabzon, Turkey, reported that levels of free fatty acids as well as zinc were severalfold lower in ADHD children compared to non-ADHD children.
The Doctor's prescription

"We shouldn't be prescribing medicine simply because that's the easiest way to go," notes Dr. Mark Stein, who runs a University of Chicago clinic for children and adults with the disorder.

While all children with ADHD are not deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, we believe that the addition of omega-3 fatty acids to the diet may be important for some ADHD children.

In fact, studies show that children whose treatment program includes only medication, educational and psychological therapy continue to be at high risk for vandalism, petty crime, frequency of alcoholic intoxication, and possession of marijuana. Dietary improvements may be the key to fostering long-term health and acceptable behavior.

parents of ADHD children and ADHD adults who wish to utilize Omega 3 fatty acids as a method of modifying their behavior should use both flax and seafood sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Flax provides alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the master omega-3 fatty acid from which other omega-3 fatty acids are synthesized. Seafood provides DHA directly which appears to be a vital omega-3 fatty acid for modifying behavior of ADHD children and adults. The rate of conversion of ALA to DHA is quite low. However, alpha-linolenic acid may be important to behavioral improvements as well. Therefore, a combination of flax and seafood is best.

DHA is available in pill form and various formulas can be recommended by your health food store retailer.
On the other hand, flax, which can be inconspicuously incorporated into children's meals, holds many benefits.

flax can be used in baking (e.g., muffins and bread), salad dressings and in smoothies - as well as many other tasty dishes. Although many persons believe that flax is too fragile to be used as a cooking oil, "recent studies show little or no loss of alpha-linolenic acid when milled flaxseed is baked as an ingredient in muffins or breads," says Felix.


The Omega 3 oils found in certain types of seafood, especially Alaska Salmon, have also been linked to improvements in or prevention of certain kinds of cancer, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, arthritis, asthma, certain kinds of mental illness, depression and lupus erythematosus.
Heart Benefits

A early study of 1,800 Western Electric Workers that began in 1957 showed that regular meals of fish lowered the overall risk of heart disease by 38% and of heart attack by 60% compared to men who ate red meat.
"Fish Consumption and the 30-year Risk of Fatal Myocardial Infarction," by Martha L Daviglus, M.D., ph. D., Jeremiah Stamler, M.D., Anthony J. Orencia, M.D., ph.D., et al, printed in The New England Journal of Medicine 3361046-1053 (April 10, 1997)

"One of the ways that the consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of heart attack is by increasing the levels of these fatty acids in blood cell membranes which reduces the clumping of blood platelets and also coronary spasm. ...modest amounts of n-3 fatty acids from seafood may reduce vulnerability to ventricular fibrillation and, thereby, reduce the risk of coronary heart disease mortality."
David S. Siscovick, M.D., ph.D., from University of Washington in Seattle, American Medical Association News Release, Oct. 31, 1995

Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston studied 11 years worth of data on the dietary habits and health of 20,551 male physicians, aged 40-84 years, found that those who ate seafood containing the n-3 fatty acid at least once a week had a 52% lower risk of sudden cardiac death compared to those who ate fish less than once a month., Headlines/News/Stories

Omega-3s inhibit the formation of blood clots. This is important because most heart attacks result when blood clots get stuck together in the blood vessels leading too ht heart. They may prevent heartbeat abnormalities, thereby protecting against sudden cardiac arrest, a major cause of death from heart disease. They lower very high levels of triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood which, when elevated, increases the risk of heart attacks. They may retard the growth of plaques that narrow arteries leading to the heart. "To achieve the wonderful benefit, all we have to do is have two seafood meals per week. I clearly tell people to eat fish and shellfish regularly to lower the risk of heart disease. There is compelling evidence to say that seafood-eating will benefit you so much."
penny Kris-Ethert, ph.D., heart disease researcher, pennsylvania State University
Reducing Hypertension and Blood pressure

In a study by investigators at University of Western Australia in perth found that either a less fat diet or more fish diet reduced blood pressure. A combination of the two produces even more reductions.
(Hypertension, Oct. 1998).

Individuals taking medication to control hypertension may be able to reduce or halt drug therapy by making lifestyle and dietary changes, advises U.S. expert Thomas pickering, M.D., professor of Medicine at New York presbyterian Hospital. He also says if you have normal blood pressure, three to four fish meals a week may protect you from hypertension.
Rheumatoid Arthritis
Eating broiled or baked fish can lower your risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
"Consumption of broiled or baked fish, but not of other types of fish, was associated with a decreased risk of rheumatoid arthritis."

Diet and Rheumatoid Arthritis in Women A possible protective Effect of Fish Consumption" by Jean Shapiro, Thomas D. Koepsell, Lynda F. Voigt, et al, Epidemiology, 1996; 7:256-263

"The oils in certain fish contain 'friendly' polyunsaturated fats called the omega-3 fatty acids. Add fish oils to the diet, and scientists can measure a very significant drop in one of the most inflammatory immune substances - leukotriene B4,"
Joel Kremer, M.D., head of rheumatology at Albany Medical College, New York, in "prevention," November 1996

"In three months, the high omega-3 group started to feel less pain. By years end most had a stronger grip and nearly had were able to decrease levels of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. ("Arthritis and Rheumatism," June, 1994)
"prevention," Nov. 1996

"Children who eat fish more than once a week have a third the risk of AHR airway hyper-responsiveness or asthma of children who do not eat fish regularly. ...These data suggest that the consumption of oily fish may protect against asthma in childhood.
"Consumption of oily fish and childhood asthma risk" by Linda Hodge, Cheryl M. Salome, Jennifer K. peat, Michelle M. Haby, et al, published in The Medical Journal of Australia 1996; 164 137-140.

"The anti-inflammatory effects of Omega 3 fatty acid may have some usefulness in modulating chronic lung diseases. ...The putative ability of omega-3 fatty acids to improve blood rheology would be beneficial in a number of chronic lung diseases. In such conditions, further clinical studies of omega-3 fatty acids are warranted."
"Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Respiratory Diseases," "A Review," by Howard R. Knapp, M.D., ph.D., FACN, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City, published in "Journal of the American College of Nutrition," Vol. 14, No. 1, 18-23 (1995)

Fetal and Child Development benefits of Omega 3

"It has been demonstrated that getting enough omega 3 fatty acids very early in life is critical. An omega 3 derivative called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) actually helps build the brain, becoming rapidly incorporated into both the cerebral cortex and the retina three months before and three months after birth, and more slowly but no less significantly up until the age of two, when brain development is complete. ...Eating more fatty fish, such as salmon, is the most efficient way to build your store of omega-3s."
"Essential Fatty Assets," by Elizabeth Hiser, published in "Eating Well"

"Our results indicate that n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids should be considered provisionally essential for infant nutrition. DHA docosahexaenoic acid may also be required by individuals with inherited metabolic defects in elongation and desaturation activity, such as patients with peroxisomal disorders and some forms of retinitis pigmentosa. ...The mother's diet before pregnancy plays an important role in determining maternal EFA 'essential fatty acid' status. ...Major EFA deposition in the human fetus occurs during the third trimester. has become generally accepted that n-6 as well as n-3 fatty acids play a key role in perinatal nutrition, especially for the developing central nervous system."
"Role of Essential Fatty Acids in the Function of the Developing Nervous System," by Ricardo Uauy, patricio peirano, Dennis Hoffman, et al, Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology, University of Chile, Santiago, Chile and Retina Foundation of the Southwest, Dallas, Texas published in Lipids, Vol. 31 Supplement (1996)

Breast Cancer and Omega 3

"Recent evidence suggests that the ratio of Omega 3 to omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid correlates with breast cancer incidence, higher ratios being more protective. ...Short term low-fat dietary intervention with fish oil can lead to significant changes in the polyunsaturated fatty acid composition of the breast micro environment. These changes mayhave important implications for the prevention of breast cancer."
"Dietary Intervention increases omega-3/omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid (pUMA) ratios in breast and gluteal fat in women with breast cancer." S. Lee, Capone, D. Bagga and J. Glaspy. Division of Hematology/Oncology, UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA
Mental Health (i.e., depression, bi-polar disorder, alchoholism, schizophrenia)

"Epidemiological studies in various countries and in the United States suggest that decreased n-3 fatty acid consumtion correlates with the increasing rates of depression. ...Long chain n-3 polyunsaturated defiency may also contribute to depressive symptoms in alcoholism, multiple sclerosis, and post-partum depression just as n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid may reduce coronary artery disease."
Joseph R. Hibbeln and Norman Salem, Jr., published in "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," 1995; 62;1-9.

Fish oil may help combat an number of serious psychiatric illnesses. According to researchers at an international conference sponsored by the National Institutes of Health there is evidence which suggests that higher consumption of essential fatty acids in fish, particularly omega-3, appear to be linked to a lower risk for depression and better treatment of manic depression and schizophrenia.

"In a study of more than 1,000 people (average age 75), those with higher blood levels of an omega-3 called DHA were more than 40% less likely to develop dementia (including Alzheimer's) over the next nine years than people with low DHA levels. ...Experts advise eating a weekly serving of fish rich in omega-3's."
"Boost Your Brain power With Omega-3's," by Holly McCord, R.D., "prevention" (Nutrition News web site)

"Fish consumption appears to be an important protective factor which is strongly associated with lower annual prevalence major depression. ... These data do suggest that that some subgroups of suicidal patients may reduce their risk with the consumption of EpA." (EpA is eicosapentaenoic acid which is an omega-3 fatty acid)

"Essential Fatty Acid Status and Markers of Serotonergic Neurotransmission in Alcoholism and Suicide," Abstract, N.I.H. Conference on polyunsaturated Acids and the Brain, September, 1998, by Joseph R. Hibbeln, M.D., Chief of Outpatients Clinic, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health

"...researchers found that patients suffering from manic depression given capsules containing fish oil experienced a marked improvement over a four month period."
"Fish Oil Found to Ease Manic Depression," by Andrew Stern

"...the omega-3 fatty acid patient group had a significantly longer period of remission...Omega-3 fatty acids...improved the short-term course of illness in this sample of patients with bipolar disorder."

Andrew L. Stoll, M.D., Director of psychopharmocology, Brigham and Women's; Assistant professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Abstract, N.I.H. Conference on polyunsaturated Acids and the Brain, September, 1998

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