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016 - Omega 3 Fatty Acids & Attention Issues

posted Nov 11, 2015, 12:54 PM by Doug Muha

Counselor Notes 16

January 30, 2014

Omega 3 Fatty Acids & Attention Issues

An earlier edition of Counselor Notes mentioned six vitamins/minerals that The ADHD Nutritional Supplement Handbook though had the most impact with the least side effects.  The last two notes addressed magnesium & zinc, and vitamin D.  Continuing on with those six, this issue focuses on omega 3 fatty acids.  (For information on what omega 3’s are and what are good sources of them, check out:  http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/omega-3-fatty-acids-fact-sheet

In a previous school year, I wrote of omega 3’s.  This issue here has some overlap, but is mostly new information.  Here are the notes I have on them:

From The ADHD and Autism Nutritional Supplement Handbook by Dana Godbout Laake R.H.D. and Pamela Compart M.D.:

·         “Essential fatty acids are not manufactured in the body and must be consumed.  Omega-3 and omega-6 are the two types of essential fatty acids….”

·         “Omega-3 fatty acids help keep cell walls flexible rather than rigid, which in turn helps cells function optimally….  Approximately 60% of the dry weight of the brain is composed of fat, including cholesterol and fatty acids.  Omega-3 DHA is a critical structural component of the human brain, retina, and nerves affecting cognition, vision, mood, and behavior.  In the brain, omega-3 fatty acid deficiency can result in less than optimal transmission of messages.”  P. 24     

From Healing ADHD by Dr. Daniel Amen (ISBN# 0-425-18327-0):

  • “Fat is necessary for brain development….Saturated fatty acids (found in animal products like milk and fatty meat like beef) are also the basis for many hormones.”  (p. 227)
  • “Monounsaturated fatty acids are found in vegetable and nut oils…. An essential subgroup of these fats, omega-3 fatty acids, are found almost exclusively in coldwater fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel.  Monounsaturated fatty acids tend to raise the HDL or good cholesterol.”  (p. 227)
  • “The brain is a unique organ in that more than half of its weight is composed of fat.  Nearly one-third of that fat consists of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids must be part of your diet and is required, not only for maintaining healthy nerve synapses, but also for the development of new brain pathways.  It has been shown in rodent studies that diets high in DHA increase the levels of both dopamine and serotonin in the frontal cortex.”  (p. 227 – 228)

From Delivered From Distraction by Edward Hallowell, M.D. & John Ratey, M.D.:

·         “Current estimates are that the average American eats 125 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids per day, only about 5 percent of what the average American ate a century ago.”  (p. 215)

·         “Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids leads to chronic inflammation throughout the body….”  (p. 215)

·         “… omega-3 fatty acids increase the levels of dopamine in the brain.  Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that the medications we use to tread ADD also act to increase.”  (p. 215)

·         “The early data shows that people with ADD are especially low in omega-3’s.”  (p. 216)

From: The A.D.D. Nutrition Solution by Marcia Zimmerman  ISBN# 0-8050-6128-2

·         “Several studies have compared fatty acid levels in AD/HD children with those of normal children.  Researchers have confirmed that lower levels of the critical fatty acids exist in the red blood cells and serum of AD/HD individuals.  Supplementing the AF/HD sufferers’ diet with the correct fatty acids has reversed their hyperactivity, aggression and impulsivity.”  (p. 138)

·         “High carbohydrate diets and carbohydrate-related disorders interfere with the body’s ability to manufacture LCP’s.”  (p. 139)  (Note: LCPs are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids: omega-6 (from canola, olive, safflower, and corn oils) and omega-3 (from flaxseed oil and fish oil))

·         “Allergies frequently disrupt fatty acid metabolism….”  (p. 140)

·         Side Note: fertility problems and post-partum depression may also be linked to problems with LCPs.  (p. 141)

The University of Maryland Medical Center  http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids#ixzz2riUpk27c notes: 

  • Children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may have low levels of certain essential fatty acids (including EPA and DHA). In a clinical study of nearly 100 boys, those with lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids had more learning and behavioral problems (such as temper tantrums and sleep disturbances) than boys with normal omega-3 fatty acid levels.
  • However, studies examining whether omega-3 fatty acids help improve symptoms of ADHD have found mixed results. A few studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids helped improve behavioral symptoms, but most were not well designed. One study that looked at DHA in addition to stimulant therapy (standard therapy for ADHD) found no effect. More research is needed, but eating foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids is a reasonable approach for someone with ADHD.

Purdue University also found a link between ADHD and omega 3 fatty acid deficiency: http://www.neuroimmunedr.com/Articles/ADHD___ADD/Purdue_Study/purdue_study.html

Psychology Today notes that ADHD may be associated with inflammation:  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-the-zone/201107/adhd-inflammatory-condition  (Omega 3 fatty acids may help with that, thus helping ADHD symptoms)

“Omega-3s are thought to play an important role in reducing inflammation throughout the body.”  http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/omega-3-fatty-acids-fact-sheet (retrieved 1-28-14)


Breast milk is known to be high in Omega 3’s and children who are breast fed are less likely to have ADHD.   http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130722152739.htm

Omega 3 fatty acids reduce ADHD symptoms in rats: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130823094331.htm

And last but not least, one online blog gives this summary of ADHD and omega 3 fatty acids and if you read just one link I have posted here in this letter, I would recommend it be this one: http://adhd-treatment-options.blogspot.com/search/label/omega%203%27s%20and%20ADHD 

Do see your pediatrician should you think omega 3’s might be a part of the solution to a child’s attention problems.  (Or work with a professional nutritionist.)

If you choose to supplement your child’s diet with omega 3 fatty acids, do be sure to remain within recommended doses and use fresh pills as omega 3’s can go rancid after a period of time. 

Doug Muha Ed.S.
School Counselor
Waverly Elementary School 

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