Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, also known as ADD and ADHD, is a brain disorder that makes it difficult to be attentive for more than short periods of time. The condition is also often marked by impulsivity and affects an estimated 2.5 percent of children and 8.4 percent of adults, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
Although ADHD can occur in anyone, it is most commonly found in boys, who have a three times higher greater rate of diagnosis than girls.
ADHD is diagnosed in childhood in most people. A mental health professional commonly conducts a clinical interview and diagnoses the patient based on certain criteria. A child must have at least six symptoms of ADHD of either hyperactivity-impulsivity and/or inattention and must have experienced the symptoms for at least 6 months or more prior to the age of seven. The symptoms also must cause significant difficulty or impairment in two or more settings, including home, school/work or social settings. Adults who are diagnosed with ADHD are often initially screened with the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale.
Conventional Treatments for ADHD
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, those who are diagnosed with ADHD are recommended to undergo a combination of medication and behavioral therapy – especially for those who experience moderate to severe symptoms of ADHD.
Children with ADHD often receive treatment in the presence of their parents, who can deliver positive feedback for positive behaviors and negative for behaviors that are undesirable. Parents and teachers are able to work together to teach children to manage their symptoms, while encouraging the most effective ways to respond to the struggles and difficulties associated with the condition.
Adults with ADHD may benefit from other treatment options, such as ADHD coaching and psychotherapy, where they can learn strategies for behavior and to help to be more structured and organized in life.
Regarding ADHD medication, stimulants and non-stimulants are used for treating children and adults with ADHD to help the brain to pay better attention, use more self-control and to slow down.
Stimulant medications are the most commonly used form of ADHD medication as they have been proven to be the most effective, but both stimulant and non-stimulant medications come with potential side-effects. Children especially need to be closely monitored with these types of medications.
Many parents of children opt to pursue natural treatment options and supplements, including omega-3s – and new research is promising about the effectiveness of these fatty acids.
Do Omega-3s During Pregnancy Help with ADHD?
Omega-3s are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that have been considered in recent years to play a helpful role in lowering the risk of childhood ADHD. Omega-3s play a major role in the function of the body’s central nervous system.
One study led by researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), provided promising results that suggested that the risk of a child whose mother consumed omega-3s during pregnancy was lower.
During the study, umbilical cord plasma samples were analyzed from 600 children in four regions of Spain to quantify the amount of omega 6 and omega 3 that make way to the fetus. The scientists also gathered information on symptoms from two questionnaires. One questionnaire was completed by the child’s teacher at age four years and the other by the child’s parents at age seven.
The results showed that a higher ratio of omega 6 to omega three was associated with a higher risk (13 percent per unit increase) of the development of symptoms of ADHD by seven years of age.
Prior research showed that kids with ADHD symptoms had higher ratios of omega 6 to omega 3. This study was in line with previous findings.
The fetal nutrient supply during the first stages of life is vital. It programs the organs and their function and structure, impacting a person’s health during every stage of life. The brain takes a long time to develop and is vulnerable to alterations in programming. These alterations could potentially lead to neurodevelopmental disorders.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that women who are pregnant and nursing consume a minimum of 300 milligrams (mg) of DHA per day by eating foods that contain it or taking a supplement.
Omega 3s for the Treatment of ADHD Behavior
Because omega-3 fatty acids have positive effects on the brain’s function, they are a considerable treatment option to neurological conditions, like ADHD.
One recent study published in the journal Nature examined the correlation between omega-3 consumption and ADHD behaviors, finding that there was a connection between increased consumption of these fatty acids and the reduction of problems with inattentiveness.
During the study, researchers examined a group of 80 boys from the Netherlands who were between the ages of 10 and 14. Half of these boys were diagnosed with ADHD.
The children in the study were fed either margarine that was omega-3 enriched or regular margarine that was not each day for a total of 16 weeks. The margarine that was enriched contained either 650 mg of DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, 650 mg of EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid, or both. Both of these ingredients are found in fish oil. Each group contained boys with and without ADHD.
The boys were to eat 10 grams of margarine daily for four months. DHA levels in the patients were taken by cheek sample and their behavior was documented by their parents on a Child Behavior Check List throughout the study.
After 16 weeks, the results showed that the group of boys who consumed the omega-3 supplement experienced a reduction in attention problems compared to those who did not take the supplement. These improvements were found in the boys both with and without ADHD, but the greatest effect was found in the boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
These studies and more show promising evidence of the potential that omega-3s have for the increasing of attention in those with and without ADHD. DHA supplements and fish oil are both viable options when it comes to supplementation for ADHD, as well as several foods like low-mercury fish, eggs that are enriched with omega-3s, DHA fortified milk, spinach and more.
Remember that we do not recommend taking your child off of doctor-recommended medications without first consulting with your healthcare provider.