Essential Fatty Acids for AD/HD
The take home message is this: fatty acid supplements for ADHD may be a waste of money at best, and a potential health hazard at worst. More than that we do not know. Says Craig Bushong, M.D., a Houston psychiatrist with an active ADHD clinical practice, "You have to be very careful. Before using any treatment I'd want very solid, undeniable research that supports using it."
Approaches similar to fatty acid supplements have been tried before for ADHD. Dr. Benjamin Feingold proposed a diet free of additives; others offered diets low in sugar, or high in vitamins and minerals. However, none of these approaches has stood up to rigorous controlled clinical trials, the gold standard of medical research.
To be sure, dietary intervention has produced some success. But more than likely, researchers say, the success stories can be attributed to three factors:
1. The Placebo Effect
People who try dietary interventions believe or want to believe they will work. Belief can influence greatly both human behavior and biology. The placebo effect is such an integral part of medicine that no scientific study is complete without taking it into account.
2. Relationship Factor
For ADHD children, the time and effort needed to manage these diets ensure that parents will spend more time with their children. This increased attention can have profoundly positive effects on children's behavior. Many experts suggest that increased parental time with and attention to ADHD children probably has more to offer than any unproven "therapeutic" diet.
3. No Blame, More Gain
In rare cases, parents of ADHD kids can blame the child for the disorder, and ADHD adults may blame themselves. If they instead focus on deficiencies in the diet, they may be less focused on deficiencies in the child or in themselves. When people focus on external causes of ADHD, they are less apt to blame the patient - either overtly or subtly - than they would otherwise. Shifting the blame away from the ADHDer can result in a better attitude and improved behavior.
In summary, the jury is still out on dietary interventions, including those involving fatty acid supplements. None have proved effective so far. Still, there are important lessons to be learned from the journey.