Children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) struggle on a daily basis to focus, to get things done, and to behave appropriately. If you are the parent of a child with this disorder, you know the challenges it presents. Medicating ADHD kids has long been the prevalent treatment choice, but there have also been plenty of criticisms of this strategy. Many people feel that kids are being overmedicated, particularly with the stimulants that treat ADHD. A new trend is emerging that includes a more holistic approach to treating the disorder. Recent research backs up the idea with evidence that consuming more omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the symptoms of ADHD.
ADHD and Diet
The last few years have seen a greater discussion of diet and the role it plays in the symptoms of ADHD. Researchers have reported numerous findings related to behavior problems and diet. Not all of the results show a direct connection to ADHD, but they do show promise for using diet to control the disorder and its symptoms.
Some of the findings show that refined sugars, certain food additives, allergies to particular foods and the way in which fatty acids are broken down in the body all affect behavior in children. There has also been some proof that children with ADHD are deficient in certain minerals and vitamins. Limited evidence suggests that just adding a multivitamin supplement can make a difference.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The mounting evidence for diet and ADHD also suggests that children who are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids may be more likely to develop the disorder. Omega-3 fatty acids are one of several types of fats that are essential to the human diet. This is because our bodies cannot manufacture them — we need to consume them through our diet. Omega-3s play a role in reducing inflammation in the body. They protect against heart disease and arthritis, as well as other problems like dementia, depression, asthma, and even ADHD.
There are several dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but you can also get them through the use of supplements. Fatty fish are very high in omega-3s. These include tuna, sardines, mackerel, herring and salmon. Plant-based foods that are high in omega-3s are walnuts, olive oil, flax seeds and chia seeds.
ADHD and Fatty Acids
When you consume omega-3 fatty acids, they are metabolized and used in various ways. One major location in which they are used is in the brain. This could help to explain the role they play in slowing disorders like ADHD as well as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Several studies have made small connections between ADHD symptom reduction and omega-3s, but a new one makes a definitive and very promising link.
Researchers at the University of Oslo in Norway used rats that were bred to have the symptoms of ADHD, including hyperactivity, impulsiveness and decreased attention. They supplemented the diets of these rats with omega-3 fatty acids, and that of the mothers before the subjects were born. They then observed their behaviors and investigated their brain chemistry.
What they found was that the omega-3 supplements had a significant effect on the hyperactive rats. It reduced their ADHD symptoms, but interestingly only in male rats. Another interesting finding was related to brain chemistry. In the rats that saw behavioral improvements, the researchers also found important changes in signaling chemicals in the brain. The results are unique in ADHD research in that they show that a dietary supplement affects both the behaviors and the underlying brain chemistry of the subjects.
Implications of the Research
The research on the rats is important in two ways. The first is that it gives conclusive proof that omega-3 fatty acids, at least in males, can reduce ADHD symptoms. This means that human boys with ADHD will likely benefit from increasing the amount of the fat in their diets.
The other important finding of the research is related to the brain chemistry. Currently, diagnoses of ADHD are made solely based on behaviors. Many experts have suggested that there may actually be a biological basis for the disorder, but there was no proof. Because the current study showed a change in brain chemistry, it shows that ADHD is caused by or at least related to biological factors.
The research into omega-3 fatty acids and ADHD has important implications for people affected by this disorder. With continued research, professionals should be able to develop better guidelines for treating it with dietary changes and better guidelines for making diagnoses.