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ADHD Natural Remedies: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The myth that medications are the only effective treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is slowly being debunked by the growing research on natural remedies and alternative treatments to ADHD.  Evidence from several studies suggests that children with ADHD suffer from a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids DHA (docasehaxaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapenataenoic acid), physiologically essential nutrients critical to brain development and function.  Omega-3 fatty acids can only be obtained through fatty deep-sea fish, nuts, and certain vegetable oils – all of which are usually deficient in our modern diet.  Anyone would be hard-pressed to find a youngster chosing roasted nuts over a bag of potato chips, or salmon over burgers and fries from McDonald's.  The scarcity of omega-3 fatty acids in the average diet may be the reason why a good number of children experience unique problems during childhood, like inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.  The scientific evidence on the effectiveness of omega-3 food supplements is certainly suggestive:

  • In 2007, an open study by the Massachusetts General Hospital concluded that omega-3 fatty acid supplements reduced manic symptoms, hyperactivity, and inattention among children with ADHD and bipolar disorder.
  • In the same year, a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial by the University of South Australia reported that daily supplements of omega-3 oils resulted in noticeable improvements among children who received the supplements.
  • A pilot study by Purdue University's Department of Food and Nutrition showed that daily doses of DHA and EPA showed improvements on oppositional defiant behavior, disruptive behavior, and conduct problems among children with ADHD.
  • A study published in Pediatrics Journal in 2005 details how 117 children showed improvements in behavior and academic abilities after receiving daily fish oil supplements.

These findings, and the additional health benefits provided by omega-3 fatty acids, make them a central piece of any alternative, holistic treatment program for ADHD. Obviously, omega-3 fatty acids should not be seen as a magic pill that will resolve all problems. My first suggestions is to increase your consumption of omega-3 rich foods, and then to supplement. Here are a few quick tips to increase omega-3 fatty acids in your diet:

  • Increase your consumption of flaxseed oil or other oils rich in omega-3 (such as canola oil or pumpkin seed oil).
  • Increase your consumption of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, and deep sea fishes. (Be careful with fish as they may contain loads of mercury.)
  • Eliminate all trans-fats, and reduce consumption of omega-6 rich vegetable oils.

If you want more information on increasing omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, check our article entitled "How to correct an omega-3 imbalance" in our ADHD Diet series.

Although the FDA has yet to establish a recommended daily allowance for omega-3 fatty acids, most nutritionists and medicine functional experts agree that children with ADHD should consume at least 1,000 mg of DHA and EPA daily.

There is also some new research showing the ratio of EPA and DHA is important. Check out the article on EPA and DHD in this series.

Finally, supplement the intake of omega-3 fatty acids with natural antioxidants like zinc or vitamin C.  Omega-3 fatty acids are very fragile, and break down at the slightest provocation; natural antioxidants keep them intact until they reach the brain.