Can a Daily Fish Oil Supplement Help Curb Symptoms of ADHD?
Solid scientific research suggests that taking a daily fish oil capsule can help curb symptoms of ADHD like distractibility and impulsivity. But how, exactly, does fish oil benefit the ADHD brain? And what are the best omega 3 supplements? Get answers to your natural treatment questions here.
Can Omega-3 Fatty Acids Help with ADHD?
You know that fish contain 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 ADHD 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, the children showed significant improvements in behavior, reading, and spelling.
Is Fish Oil Safe for Kids and Adults with ADHD?
Fish oil is generally safe when taken properly, but you should always speak with your doctor before trying fish oil. 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.”
What Are the Best Omega-3 Supplements for ADD?
Over-The-Counter Formulations for Children with ADHD
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.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends treating ADHD in children and adolescents aged 6 to 18 with FDA-approved medications, plus parent training in behavior modification and behavioral classroom interventions. Research studies like this one conducted by scientists at McGill University have found that “stimulant medications are most effective, and combined medication and psychosocial treatment is the most beneficial treatment option for most adult patients with ADHD.” All ADHD treatment decisions should be made in consultation and coordination with a licensed medical provider.
Update 12/2020: An earlier version of this article misidentified DHA as an omega-6 fatty acid. DHA is an omega-3.