Omega-3 fish oil supplements may improve alertness in some teens with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a new study.
Share on PinterestA new study shows that omega-3 supplements are just as good as medication for some teens with ADHD.
ADHD is a condition in which a person exhibits a distinct pattern of inattentiveness or hyperactivity and impulsivity – or all of these symptoms – at levels that affect development and function.
There are more than 6 million children with ADHD in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In the new study, scientists at King’s College London in the UK and China Medical University in Taichung, Taiwan looked at the effects of omega-3 fish oil supplements on cognitive function in adolescents with ADHD.
A recently published paper on translational psychiatry describes the new findings.
The study took the form of a randomized controlled study and included 92 adolescents with ADHD between the ages of 6 and 18 years.
For 12 weeks, the adolescents received either high doses of the omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) or a placebo.
The results showed that of the participants who received the supplement, those who had the lowest levels of EPA in their blood showed improved focused alertness and alertness.
However, there were no such improvements in participants whose EPA blood levels were normal or high.
Research also identified some adverse consequences of taking omega-3 supplements. People with high EPA blood levels who took the preparation showed an increase in impulsivity.
The researchers suggest that these results suggest that psychiatrists need to take a personalized medical approach to treating adolescents with ADHD.
“The omega-3 supplements only worked in children with lower levels of EPA in their blood, as if the intervention were compensating for a deficiency in this important nutrient,” says lead study author Carmine M. Pariante, professor in the Department of Psychological Medicine at King’s College London.
He and his colleagues warn that the results should not be a reason for parents and caregivers to give adolescents omega-3 supplements without first consulting a doctor.
Omega-3 is a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that play several important roles in the body.
These fatty acids help form cell membranes, produce energy, and form signaling molecules called eicosanoids.
In research, scientists typically focus on EPA and two other types of omega-3s: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
The body can’t make ALA, so it has to get it from foods like canola oil, chia seeds, flax seeds, soybeans, and walnuts.
Although the body can convert ALA to DHA and EPA in the liver, it cannot make enough. As a result, the body must also get these fatty acids from food sources.
Fish and fish oils are rich in DHA and EPA. Fish build these two omega-3s in their tissues because they eat phytoplankton, which has ingested microalgae that produce DHA and EPA.
Diet supplements can contain ALA, DHA, EPA, and other omega-3 fatty acids. While fish oil is the main source of DHA and EPA in dietary supplements, there are non-fish products that are made from algae oil, an oil made from microalgae.
Omega-3 formulations can vary widely in dietary supplements. It is therefore important to check the product labels to determine which omega-3 fatty acids are in what amounts.
The results of the recent study complement the results of previous research by the same team that found ADHD to be more common among adolescents with omega-3 deficiency.
Standard treatment for adolescents with ADHD includes the administration of stimulants. One such stimulant, methylphenidate, typically leads to improvements – scientists describe them in terms of effect sizes – between 0.22 and 0.42 for attention and alertness.
The test results showed that the low EPA adolescents who received an omega-3 supplement showed improvements with an effect size of 0.83 for alertness and 0.89 for focused attention.
Prof. Pariante suggests that “for children with omega-3 deficiency, fish oil supplements may be a preferred option over standard stimulant treatments”.
However, the team also points out that the supplements may have adverse effects on teenagers who are not omega-3 deficient.
“Our study sets an important precedent for other nutritional interventions, and we can begin teaching children with ADHD the benefits of “personalized psychiatry”. “
Prof. Carmine M. Pariante