The Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) — Omega 3, Omega 6 and Omega 9 —found in seed oils play a vital role in cell to cell communication in the brain. With the absence of these fats, neurons “short out” and their communications do not arrive at their intended destination, thus causing symptoms of disorders like ADD/ADHD.
Researchers such as LJ Stevens helped establish the link between fatty acid deficiency and behavioral and learning disorders. Some of his research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggested that altered fatty acid metabolism was a key contributor to the nutritional deficiencies they discovered in children with ADHD. In this study 53 participants with ADHD had lower concentrations of EFAs in their blood cells than the 43 controls.
In addition, 21 ADHD participants also had many symptoms of fatty acid deficiency associated with lower blood EFA concentrations. The same researchers continued their studies on young boys with learning disorders. They found a greater number of behavioral problems, temper tantrums, learning disorders, and sleep difficulties in the participants with lower total blood omega-3 concentrations. The reason for this EFA deficiency in this group of people is unknown.
Some researchers believe that a fatty acid nutritional deficiency and/or a conversion problem may exist among children who have learning disorders such as ADHD and dyslexia.
A recent study by Richardson and Puri, published in Progress in Neuro Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry in 2002, studied the effects of EFAs on ADHD-related symptoms in children with specific learning disabilities (mainly dyslexia). Forty-one children aged 8-12 years with both specific learning difficulties and above average ADHD ratings were randomly allocated to the EFA supplementation group or a placebo for 12 weeks. After 12 weeks of EFA supplementation, significantly lower cognitive and behavioral problems were noted compared to the placebo group. The researchers concluded that EFA supplementation appears to reduce ADHD-related symptoms in children with dyslexia.
Currently, British school children with learning difficulties are taking part in a major trial to see if EFAs from both plant and fish sources can help raise their learning and concentration levels. A total of 120 children aged 6 to 11 with dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism are being studied. The researchers feel that the significant dietary changes that have taken place over the last 20 years (reduction of “good” fats in the diet) are responsible for the increase – by as many as four to five times – in the number of children being diagnosed with these conditions. The researchers expect to see a significant improvement in the children’s learning abilities following EFA supplementation.
Although the diagnoses of ADD/ADHD are on the rise, it is comforting to know there may be a natural alternative to drug therapy for our children. It is important to choose supplements that contain both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for optimal health benefits. Clinical research has shown improvements with 500mg of DHA and 200mg of EPA, but the dosage will depend upon the child’s age, size and severity of the disorder. EFA supplementation can be a viable option for some children with these difficult-to-manage disorders. Combating the symptoms of ADD/ADHD gives these children a new lease on life – new hope and the self esteem needed to be successful in today’s world.