Can a Daily Fish Oil Supplement Help Curb Symptoms of ADHD?
Not everyone can (or wants to) take medication, but finding an alternative ADD treatment that is equally effective can be tough. The good news? Solid research supports taking a daily fish oil capsule to curb the symptoms of ADHD, with or without medication.
Can Omega-3 Fatty Acids Help with ADHD?
You know that fish contains nutrients that help prevent heart disease and other serious ailments. Now evidence is mounting that these same omega-3 fatty acids also optimize brain function. Among other things, omega-3s boost the body’s synthesis of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) medications act to increase.
So, could a daily fish oil capsule help curb the symptoms of ADHD?
Quite possibly, suggest several research studies on fish oil for ADHD — including a study published in Pediatrics. “A lack of certain polyunsaturated fatty acids may contribute to dyslexia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder,” reports one of the study’s authors, Paul Montgomery, D.Phil., a researcher in the psychiatry department at the University of Oxford in England.
For Montgomery’s study, schoolchildren were given fish oil supplements rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) for a period of three months. During this time, he children showed significant improvements in behavior, reading, and spelling.
How Much Fish Oil Is Needed to Help ADHD Symptoms?
Given this finding, Montgomery has become a proponent of fish-oil supplements for children with ADHD. “People would be lucky if they could get their kids’ EFA levels up sufficiently by food choices alone,” Montgomery says. “I think supplementation with omega 3s is the only sensible way forward. One gram per day seems right for most children.”
Montgomery recommends choosing a fish oil supplement that contains a high ratio of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA) to omega-6 fatty acids (DHA). “The right ratio of 3s to 6s seems to be about four to one,” he says.
ADHD expert Dr. Edward Hallowell typically recommends 2.5 grams of an omega-3 supplement for children each day, and up to 5 grams a day for adults.
“I would recommend children four to six years of age start with a daily supplement of 500 mg of omega-3s; children seven years and older, 1000 mg,” says Sandy Newmark, M.D., head of the Pediatric Integrative Neurodevelopmental Program at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine where he specializes in the treatment of autism, ADHD, and other developmental or chronic childhood conditions. “In both cases, I recommend a supplement that has equal amounts of DHA and EPA.”
As you can see, recommendations vary. So be sure to speak with your doctor about the best amount and DHA/EPA balance for you or your child. Many people who take fish oil use the omega-3 supplements as a complement to ADHD medication and/or other ADD treatments. This combination should also be carefully orchestrated with your doctor.
Is Fish Oil Safe for Kids and Adults with ADHD?
Fish oil is generally safe when taken properly. Make sure the fish oil supplement you take is free of mercury and other contaminants. Children and adults with shellfish allergies should not take fish oil supplements; instead, they should look for vegetarian omega-3 supplements, usually made of algae or other plant-based materials. Side effects of fish oil supplements are generally mild, and may include nausea, heartburn, or “fish burps.”
Which Fish Oil Products Are Best for ADD?
Over-The-Counter Formulations for Children
Fish burps are a real, dreaded thing. These, and the fishy taste of many omega 3 supplements, deter many children from trying this line of treatment. So ADDitude asked three kids with ADD — Natalie (age 10), Harry (10), and Katie (7) — to try several popular omega-3 products.
Although none of the products caused the deal-breaker fish burps, some of them did need to be hidden in other foods to get past our tasters’ picky palates. Here are the results, along with some frank comments from our panel.
Carlson for Kids (lemon flavor)
Benefits: Made from cold-water fish caught in Norwegian waters; bottled in Norway to ensure maximum freshness
Serving: 800 mg of omega 3s per 1/2-teaspoon serving
Comments: Our testers preferred it mixed with a favorite food. Harry has his mixed in chocolate milk. Try it in a spoonful of lemon yogurt.
Coromega Kids Omega3 Squeeze (orange flavor)
Benefits: Portable, single-dose packets; clinically proven to deliver 300 percent better absorption than softgels
Serving: 284 mg of omega 3s per 2.5-g packet
Comments: Our tasters weren’t thrilled with taking it straight. Mixing it in a smoothie or yogurt helped a lot.
Barlean’s Kid’s Omega Swirl (lemonade flavor)
Benefits: Nine times more absorbable than regular fish oil; has the taste and texture of a smoothie
Serving: 720 mg of omega-3s per 2-teaspoon serving
Comments: All three kids liked it straight. Says Harry: “Double thumbs up.” Says Natalie: “Mmm, ahh, yummy. I could drink it all down.”
SaviSeed (cocoa-kissed flavor)
Benefits: Super-seeds from the rainforests of Peru; richest source of omega 3s, 13 times as much per serving as wild salmon
Serving: 7 g of omega 3s per 1-ounce serving
Comments: All three testers liked the taste at first, but were less pleased when the chocolate coating gave way to the earthy taste of the seed inside. Try having kids wash it down with chocolate milk.
Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Effervescent (creamy orange flavor)
Benefits: Fun to drink as the powder creates fizzy bubbles when dissolved in water; convenient single-serving packets; added vitamin D3
Serving: 670 mg of omega 3s per 9.7-g packet
Comments: One of the three testers went for this one. Natalie: “Mmm. That’s good!” Instead of water, try mixing it in lemonade or orange juice.
Research-Based Formulations Specifically for ADHD
Equazen Pro, a new Omega-3 supplement, manages omega-3 fatty acid deficiency to nutritionally support focus and attention in children with ADHD or ADHD-type symptoms. It was formulated to address a LC-PUFA deficiency caused by genetic abnormalities that is linked to ADD-type symptoms.
In addition, several vegetarian options do exist, including products like this: Purity Omega
Edward Hallowell, M.D., is a member of ADDitude’s ADHD Medical Review Panel.
Updated on August 12, 2019