In the early 1980s, researchers first linked ADHD to essential fatty acid deficiency. Recent years have seen an unprecedented rise in autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Since our nerves and brain are composed mainly of fats, poor omega 3 fatty acid status can alter neurotransmitter function and inhibit brain performance on many levels. This deficiency has a greater impact on males because their requirements for essential fatty acids are , in general, much higher – one reason why autism occurs more frequently in boys.1164,1168
Brain and nerve growth throughout childhood is extraordinarily rapid. The need for omega 3 fatty acids remains critical all the way through adolescence and into adulthood. Our brains can actually create nerve pathways in response to new experiences and learning environments. Called “neuronal plasticity,” this phenomena is crucial for long-term memory and learning and proper levels of the omega 3 fatty acid, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are needed for this to occur.1151The ratio of omega 6 fatty acids, which differ in structure and function, to omega 3 fatty acids also affects neuronal plasticity. Scientists now agree that the ratio of omega 6 fats to omega 3 fats is as important as the actual levels, especially in autism and ADHD. A lower ratio is better and when this ratio is improved, symptoms of autism and ADHD often improve.1155,1159
One Oxford University study demonstrated that fatty acid supplements given to children for 3 months who struggled with ADHD resulted in improvements in reading, spelling and behavior, which were not seen in a placebo group. When the placebo group in this study were given the same supplementation of essential fatty acids as a second part of this trial, the same improvements were eventually seen.1117
Stimulant drugs such as Ritalin are commonly prescribed for ADHD but studies show that supplements can be equally effective in treating symptoms of ADHD.1118
Differences in the fatty acid levels between people with ADHD and those without it are not wholly explained by differences in intake of either supplements or fatty acid-rich foods. This suggests that people with autism or ADHD are perhaps genetically predisposed to fatty acid deficiencies, and therefore metabolize fatty acids differently from normal controls. Children with low scores on behavioral assessment tests consistently have lower omega 3 fatty acids levels, and when supplemented with fish oils, the symptoms of ADHD in these children such as hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and inability to pay attention – dramatically improve.1115,1125
The longer a child goes with Autism, the harder they are to reach. Evaluate your child's micronutrient status today!
For a copy of SpectraCell's Nutrition Correlation chart on autism, click here.
1164Gow AV et al. Total red blood cell concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids are associated with emotion-elicited neural activity in adolescent boys with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2009;80:151-156.
1168Colter AL, Cutler C, Meckling KA. Fatty acid status and behavioural symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in adolescents: a case-control study. Nutr J 2008;7:8.
1151Ramakrishnan U, Imhoff-Kunsch B, DiGirolamo AM. Role of docosahexaenoic acid in maternal and child mental health. Am J Clin Nutr 2009;89:958S-962S.
1155Bell JG et al. The fatty acid compositions of erythrocyte and plasma polar lipids in children with autism, developmental delay or typically developing controls and the effect of fish oil intake. Br J Nutr 2010;103:1160-1167.
1159Schuchardt JP, Huss M, Stauss-Grabo M, Hahn A. Significance of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) for the development and behaviour of children. Eur J Pediatr 2010;169:149-164.
1118Harding KL, Judah RD, Gant C. Outcome-based comparison of Ritalin versus food-supplement treated children with AD/HD. Altern Med Rev 2003;8:318-330.
1117Richardson AJ, Montgomery P. The Oxford-Durham study: a randomized, controlled trial of dietary supplementation with fatty acids in children with developmental coordination disorder. Pediatrics 2005;115:1360-1366.
1115Burgess JR, Stevens L, Zhang W, Peck L. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71:327S-330S.
1125Stevens L, et al. EFA supplementation in children with inattention, hyperactivity, and other disruptive behaviors. Lipids 2003;38:1007-1021. Scores on behavioral assessment tests consistently have lower omega 3 fatty acids levels, and when supplemented with fish oils, the symptoms of ADHD in these children such as hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and inability to pay attention – dramatically improve.1115,1125