Go for the Fish Oil
Omega-3's can improve several aspects of ADHD behavior: hyperactivity, impulsivity and concentration. As a result, I recommend that all children with ADHD take omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3s are essential fats important for normal brain function. They are called "essential" fats because the body must get them from diet; our bodies cannot make them. Research suggests that children with ADHD have lower blood levels of omega-3's than kids without ADHD. So, unless your child is a dedicated fish eater, you'll have to supplement, usually with fish oil, to achieve healthy levels.
A number of studies on omega-3s and ADHD have shown a positive effect. In a 2009 study, from Sweden, 25 percent of children who had daily doses of omega-3s had a significant decrease in symptoms after three months; by six months, almost 50 percent experienced better symptom management. This is an impressive result for a safe nutritional supplement with few side effects.
How much omega-3 should your child get and in what form? It’s a little complicated. The two main omega-3 fatty acids contained in supplements are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). It appears that most benefits are derived from omega-3 products that contain more EPA than DHA. I recommend a total dose of 700 to 1,000 mg a day for younger children, and 1,500 to 2,000 mg for older children.
Omega-3s come in capsule, liquid, and chewable form. The gummies and chewables, unfortunately, don’t have much fish oil in them, so it is expensive and time-consuming to give your child the proper dose. Most kids who are too young to swallow capsules can take the liquid, although you’ll have to be creative about getting them to take it. It is OK to mix liquid omega-3s in just about anything. Orange juice and smoothies are a couple of favorites.
I've seen some children improve within a few days, while others didn’t show improvement for a few months. My advice to parents is always to be patient, and not to give up on an omega-3 regimen too soon.
Next: Main Iron Levels
This article appears in the Winter 2011 issue of ADDitude.
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