Behavior improved in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who took omega-3 fatty acids, in a new pilot study.
Researchers recruited six boys and three girls ages 8 to 16 who had ADHD. The study was an open-label study, meaning there was no placebo group. To start, the children took a 1,620 mg combination of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) plus docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) per day. After four weeks, doctors measured the amount of fatty acids in the blood plasma and compared the amount of EPA to another omega fat, arachidonic acid (AA). AA is an omega-6 fatty acid, also an essential nutrient, but one that researchers believe must be in balance with EPA. Scientists have found that children with ADHD have high AA/EPA ratios, meaning there is too little EPA compared to AA. Based on the AA/EPA ratios at four weeks, doctors adjusted the dosage of omega-3s for each child to reach a level that is normal in the Japanese population, and continued for the next four weeks. Each child, along with his or her parent, met with a psychiatrist at least three times: at the start of the study, at four weeks and at eight weeks. Doctors measured plasma fatty acid levels each time.
After eight weeks, all of the children had significantly higher plasma levels of EPA and DHA, and significantly lower AA/EPA ratios. AA had declined from about 21 times the amount of EPA to approximately six times the amount of EPA.
The psychiatrists were unaware of the changes in dosage of omega-3s, and did not know how consistently each child had taken his or her supplements. At eight weeks, the psychiatrists reported significant improvements in behavior including inattention, hyperactivity, oppositional and defiant behavior, and poor conduct. Researchers noted that as the AA/EPA ratio decreased, behavior scores improved and that these improvements were statistically significant. Study authors concluded that high doses of EPA with DHA may improve behavior in children with ADHD.