Essential Fatty Acids Improve ADHD
Children suffering from attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be able to reduce their learning and behavior problems by taking supplemental essential fatty acids, according to a study published in Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry (2002:26:233–9).
ADHD is characterized by impulsive behavior, lack of concentration, restlessness and, in some cases, learning disabilities. The conventional approach to treatment is to use amphetamine-like medications, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin®) or amphetamine with dextroamphetamine (Adderall®). However, these medications can cause unwanted side effects such as fast heart rate, loss of appetite, nausea, insomnia, and irritability. Essential fatty acids (EFAs), on the other hand, do not cause any significant side effects.
Researchers studied 41 children between the ages of 8 and 12 years with ADHD and specific learning disabilities (mainly reading difficulties). The children were given either a supplement containing 186 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), 480 mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), 96 mg of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), 864 mg of linoleic acid, and 60 IU of vitamin E per day, or a placebo. The fatty acids used in this study can be obtained, albeit in somewhat different proportions, from a combination of fish oil and evening primrose oil. Compared with the group taking a placebo, the children who took the essential fatty acid supplement had significant improvement in symptom scores related to learning and behavior. No significant side effects were observed in the children taking EFAs.
A few studies have shown that kids with ADHD may be deficient in EFAs, which are necessary for normal brain function. It is possible that taking supplemental EFAs helps correct an underlying deficiency in these nutrients, thereby restoring normal amounts in the brain. Another possibility is that children with ADHD have an unusually high requirement for EFAs that cannot be met by a typical diet.
Children with ADHD may also benefit from taking other nutritional supplements, such as vitamin B6, glutamine, or magnesium. Some of these nutrients must be used in large amounts to be beneficial; amounts that could produce unwanted side effects. For information on the appropriate intake amounts, please consult a physician knowledgeable in nutritional medicine.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of Garlic and Cholesterol: Everything You Need to Know (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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