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Omega 3 & ADHD: Facts vs myths

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The healthy fats better known as omega 3 are essential nutrients found in algae and fish oil. Omega 3 supplementation has increased in popularity in the last few years, with the global market reaching 2,43 billion dollars in 2022[1]. People are eager to try omega 3 for its well-evidenced benefits including maintaining normal brain function[2]. A new wave in popularity has also emerged from claims omega 3 helps with ADHD[3,4]. Let’s look at the science-backed benefits of these healthy fats. 


Omega 3 & ADHD: Is there a connection?

Before jumping to conclusions based on omega 3 and brain fog information, let’s take a look at ADHD. It’s a condition that affects a person’s behaviour and is associated with multiple structural changes to the brain[9,10]. It’s characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity which categorise ADHD symptoms[9]. ADHD is more frequently associated with omega 3 in mainstream media as a miracle pill for the neurodivergent community as some studies show children with ADHD have lower levels of omega 3[11]. Can omega 3 help with ADHD symptoms? Here’s what the studies are saying. 


Omega 3 fatty acids for ADHD’s inattention

ADHD symptoms are based on two patterns - inattention, and hyperactivity and impulsivity. Inattention refers to difficulty in focusing, characterized by easy distractibility, forgetfulness, and a reduced attention span[9]. Multiple studies suggest that inattention can be improved with omega 3. A study on 92 ADHD youth aged from 6 to 18 years old found that high-dose EPA omega 3 improves attention in children and adolescents with ADHD who had low EPA levels before the start of the study[11]. Similarly, attention also improved in children and young adolescents with ADHD symptoms who were monitored by their parents and teachers throughout the supplementation period[12,13]. A study on 95 youths with mood disorders showed that their task execution got better after supplementing with omega 3[12]. Their behaviour regulation and metacognition got better, meaning they were more likely to think more before acting and at the same time be more aware of their thought processes.


Omega 3 fatty acids for ADHD‘s hyperactivity and impulsivity

Hyperactivity and impulsivity symptoms in ADHD refer to restlessness and acting without thinking first[9].  A Spanish study on 60 children is also suggestive of the positive effects of omega 3 as impulsiveness in ADHD youth improved with supplementation[15]. A study on a bigger sample size concluded that supplementation with omega 3 improved inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity for children who only experienced one pattern without the other, for example being hyperactive and impulsive only[14]. The evidence from the only study on a statistically big enough sample suggests that omega 3 only benefits people with certain mental health conditions.


Does omega 3 help with ADHD?

Researchers are yet to conclude the effects of omega 3 on ADHD. Current studies show that omega 3 may only help alleviate ADHD symptoms in children with ADHD[16]. However, these studies are inconsistent in their findings and there’s currently a lack of evidence for the effectiveness of omega 3 for ADHD symptoms in adults[17,18,19]. Sample sizes in those studies are frequently small which can also affect the statistical analysis of the data collected and the actual results[19]. Considering all the limitations of the current omega 3 and ADHD research and the fact that DHA helps maintain normal brain function, more studies on children and adults with ADHD are needed.


The wonders of omega 3 for a healthier you

Even though the verdict is still out on omega 3’s benefits for ADHD, especially in adults, there are plenty of studies confirming the benefits of omega 3’s DHA for your health. DHA is a type of omega 3 fat that was shown to nourish cognitive performance, memory and attention in adults[20,21]. There’s also evidence of DHA’s neuroprotective properties that counteract mechanisms linked to cognitive decline during ageing such as inflammation[22]. With its anti-inflammatory properties, it’s also a great mood booster as it allows your feel-good chemical serotonin to work its magic[23]. Besides being good for adults, maternal DHA intake also contributes to the normal brain development of the foetus and breastfed infants[24,25]. brain feed developed a sustainable and plant-based double-concentrated omega 3 that boasts an impressive 500 mg of DHA in one vegan capsule. Get 15% off your first purchase with code ‘NEW15’. 


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References

[1] Omega 3 Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Type (EPA, DHA, ALA), By Source (Marine, Plant), By Application (Supplements & Functional Foods), By Region, And Segment Forecasts, 2023 - 2030 (n.d.). Grand View Research. https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/omega-3-market

[2] EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) (2011). Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and brain, eye and nerve development (ID 501, 513, 540), maintenance of normal brain function (ID 497, 501, 510, 513, 519, 521, 534, 540, 688, 1323, 1360, 4294), maintenance of normal vision (ID 508, 510, 513, 519, 529, 540, 688, 2905, 4294), maintenance of normal cardiac function (ID 510, 688, 1360), “maternal health; pregnancy and nursing” (ID 514), “to fulfil increased omega-3 fatty acids need during pregnancy” (ID 539), “skin and digestive tract epithelial cells maintenance” (ID 525), enhancement of mood (ID 536), “membranes cell structure” (ID 4295), “anti-inflammatory action” (ID 4688) and maintenance of normal blood LDL-cholesterol concentrations (ID 4719) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal, 9(4):2078.

[3] How Omega-3 Fatty Acids Change Your Brain (2017). Amen Clinics. https://www.amenclinics.com/blog/how-omega-3-fatty-acids-change-your-brain/

[4] Greenblatt, J. M. (2023). Omega 3s: The Ultimate (ADHD) Brain Food. Additude. https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-omega-3-benefits/

[5] Ocon, A. J. (2013). Caught in the thickness of brain fog: exploring the cognitive symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Frontiers in Physiology, 4

[6] Kverno, K. (2021). Brain Fog: A Bit of Clarity Regarding Etiology, Prognosis, and Treatment. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 59(11), 9–13. 

[7] McWhirter, L., Smyth, H., Hoeritzauer, I., Couturier, A., Stone, J., & Carson, A. J. (2023). What is brain fog? Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 94(4), 321–325.

[8] Haß, U., Herpich, C., & Norman, K. (2019). Anti-Inflammatory Diets and Fatigue. Nutrients, 11(10), 2315.

[9] Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (2021). NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/

[10] Gehricke, J. G., Kruggel, F., Thampipop, T., Alejo, S. D., Tatos, E., Fallon, J., & Muftuler, L. T. (2017). The brain anatomy of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in young adults - a magnetic resonance imaging study. PloS one, 12(4), e0175433.

[11] Gustafsson, P. A., Birberg‐Thornberg, U., Duchén, K., Landgren, M., Malmberg, K., Pelling, H., Strandvik, B., & Karlsson, T. (2010). EPA supplementation improves teacher‐rated behaviour and oppositional symptoms in children with ADHD. Acta Paediatrica, 99(10), 1540–1549. 

[12] Vesco, A. T., Young, A. S., Arnold, L. E., & Fristad, M. A. (2018). Omega‐3 supplementation associated with improved parent‐rated executive function in youth with mood disorders: secondary analyses of the omega 3 and therapy (OATS) trials. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 59(6), 628–636.

[13] Checa-Ros, A., Haro-García, A., Seiquer, I., Molina-Carballo, A., Uberos-Fernández, J., & Muñoz-Hoyos, A. (2019). Early monitoring of fatty acid profile in children with attention deficit and/or hyperactivity disorder under treatment with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Minerva Pediatrica, 71(4), 313–325.

[14]  Kean, J. D., Sarris, J., Scholey, A., Silberstein, R., Downey, L. A., & Stough, C. (2017). Reduced inattention and hyperactivity and improved cognition after marine oil extract (PCSO-524®) supplementation in children and adolescents with clinical and subclinical symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Psychopharmacology, 234(3), 403–420. 

[15] San Mauro Martin, I., Sanz Rojo, S., González Cosano, L., Conty De La Campa, R., Garicano Vilar, E., & Blumenfeld Olivares, J. A. (2022). Impulsiveness in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder after an 8-week intervention with the Mediterranean diet and/or omega-3 fatty acids: a randomised clinical trial. Neurología (English Edition), 37(7), 513–523.

[16] Hawkey, E., & Nigg, J. T. (2014). Omega−3 fatty acid and ADHD: Blood level analysis and meta-analytic extension of supplementation trials. Clinical Psychology Review, 34(6), 496–505. 

[17] Liu, T.-H., Wu, J.-Y., Huang, P.-Y., Lai, C.-C., Chang, J. P.-C., Lin, C.-H., & Su, K.-P. (2023). Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids for Core Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 84(5).

[18] Gillies, D., Leach, M. J., & Perez Algorta, G. (2023). Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adolescents. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 4(4), CD007986. 

[19] Lake, J. (2018). Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids for ADHD. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/integrative-mental-health-care/201804/omega-3-essential-fatty-acids-adhd

[20] Muldoon, M., Ryan, C., Sheu, L., Yao, J., Conklin, S., & Manuck, S. (2010). Serum Phospholipid Docosahexaenonic Acid Is Associated with Cognitive Functioning during Middle Adulthood. The Journal of Nutrition, 140, 848–853.

[21] Jackson, P. A., Reay, J. L., Scholey, A. B., & Kennedy, D. O. (2012). DHA-rich oil modulates the cerebral haemodynamic response to cognitive tasks in healthy young adults: A near IR spectroscopy pilot study. British Journal of Nutrition, 107(8), 1093–1098. 

[22] Dyall, S. C. (2015). Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: A review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 7. 

[23] Patrick, R. P., & Ames, B. N. (2015). Vitamin D and the omega‐3 fatty acids control serotonin synthesis and action, part 2: relevance for ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and impulsive behavior. The FASEB Journal, 29(6), 2207–2222. 

[24] EFSA (2009). Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies on a request from Merck Selbstmedikation GmbH on DHA and support of the cognitive development of the unborn child and breastfed infant. The EFSA Journal, 1007, 1–14.

[25] EFSA (2011). Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and brain, eye and nerve development (ID 501, 513, 540), maintenance of normal brain function (ID 497, 501, 510, 513, 519, 521, 534, 540, 688, 1323, 1360, 4294), maintenance of normal vision (ID 508, 510, 513, 519, 529, 540, 688, 2905, 4294), maintenance of normal cardiac function (ID 510, 688, 1360), “maternal health; pregnancy and nursing” (ID 514), “to fulfil increased omega-3 fatty acids need during pregnancy” (ID 539), “skin and digestive tract epithelial cells maintenance” (ID 525), enhancement of mood (ID 536), “membranes cell structure” (ID 4295), “anti-inflammatory action” (ID 4688) and maintenance of normal blood LDL-cholesterol concentrations (ID 4719) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal, 9(4), 2078–2108.

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