HealthDay News — Boys with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may benefit from the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and some vegetable oils, a small European study suggests.
Those who regularly ate an omega-3-loaded margarine experienced an improvement in their ability to pay attention, compared with boys who did not, researchers report in Neuropsychopharmacology.
The results suggest that parents might help children with ADHD by adding foods rich in omega-3s to their diet, or by giving them a fish oil supplement, said lead author Dienke Bos, a postdoctoral researcher with the Brain Center Rudolf Magnus at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands.
“It most likely wouldn’t hurt to try using omega-3 supplements in kids together with their medication, as it might give some extra alleviation” of ADHD symptoms, Bos said.
However, the improvement in the boys’ attention was not huge, and omega-3s did not seem to help other ADHD-related symptoms like impulse control or aggression, said Russell Barkley, PhD, clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina.
In this study, researchers recruited 40 Dutch boys between ages 8 and 14 who had been diagnosed with ADHD, along with 39 typically developing boys.
All were asked to eat 10 grams (about one-third of an ounce) of margarine every day. Half of the boys in each group ate a margarine with 650 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids, while the rest had plain margarine.
Parents were asked to fill out standard questionnaires that assess a child’s behavior for signs of ADHD, and MRI brain scans were taken of the children.
By the end of the 16-week study, all boys who ate omega-3-rich margarine exhibited improved attention, compared with the boys eating plain margarine, researchers found.
Researchers aren’t sure why omega-3s appeared to help battle inattentiveness, but Bos noted that omega-3s are an important building block in the brain. The fatty acids are abundantly present in the brain’s cell membranes, where they are thought to facilitate the transmission of neural signals, he said.
Bos DJ, et al. Reduced symptoms of inattention after Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation in boys with and without Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2015; doi: 10.1038/npp.2015.73.