Medication (or discipline) might not be what your child is missing

Article at a glance

  • 1 in 10 children are affected by ADHD.
  • Aside from the popular controversy that this is an over diagnosed condition, these children and adolescents still need support in order to optimize their health and lifelong performance.
  • Low Omega-3 intake and Omega-3 status have been correlated with developmental and behavioral disorders such as ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia.
  • Increasing Omega-3s in the diet can significantly improve ADHD symptoms, reading, spelling, and attention behaviors.
  • Increasing Omega-3s in the diet of clinically healthy children have also been found improve reading, verbal learning ability, and memory.

You don’t need to have children to know that the rates of diagnosed ADD and ADHD in the child and adolescent populations on are the rise. Today, 1 in 10 children are affected by ADHD, says researcher Wei Bao, MD, PhD, and assistant professor in the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa. Putting aside the popular controversy that this might be an over diagnosed condition, the reality is that kids and young adolescents who have ADHD symptoms and are not given support could end up with poor performances at school and work, difficult relationships, and potentially unhealthy attempts to self-medicate. Is there more that these kids need besides medications and discipline?

While most people don’t assume there is a connection between brain function and diet, the truth is there are many components of the diet that are known to affect cognition and influence learning. The human brain is made up of nearly 60% fat and nutritional status has important effects on brain structure, function, and health. DHA, an essential Omega-3 fatty acid, in particular is recognized as being essential for the growth and development of the brain and for normal brain function. The current low intakes of Omega-3s in most modern countries are believed to contribute to a wide variety of physical and mental health problems. Could increasing intake of these brain healthy nutrients be the simple answer to this ADHD epidemic that we are facing?

Omega-3 fatty acids improve clinical symptoms of ADHD

It has already been observed that low intake and low blood levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as high Omega-6:Omega-3 ratios, is positively correlated with developmental and behavioral disorders such as ADHD, AHDH symptom severity, dyslexia, and dyspraxia. So, does increased consumption of Omega-3s help with these symptoms?

Several studies have demonstrated that Omega-3 supplementation in children and adolescents with ADHD improves ADHD symptoms and parental reports of symptoms as well. According to the parent version of the Conner’s questionnaire (used to assess changed in ADHD symptoms) Omega-3 supplementation in children with ADHD led to significant improvements in symptoms to include anxiety, attentional difficulties, and general behavior problems.

Beyond behavior and attention, Omega-3 supplementation has been found to significantly improve reading and spelling in children with Developmental Coordination Disorder, and increase reading achievement in children with dyslexia. In children with ADHD, and who were behind in their age level in reading and spelling, found that higher DHA levels after supplementation were associated with improved reading, spelling, attention, and oppositional behavior compared to before supplementation.

Omega-3 fatty acid effects on clinically healthy children

Does your child have to have a developmental or behavioral diagnosis to receive brain health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids? Clinically healthy or not, the majority of children and adolescents worldwide are deficient in these brain supporting fatty acids, and therefore could benefit in learning, behavior, and overall brain health from increasing intake as well.

Studies show that Omega-3 supplementation does appear to offer a safe and effective way to improve verbal learning ability and memory , as well as reading and behavior in healthy children, with greater improvements seen in the children whose initial performance scores were lower to begin with. In support of this, another study concluded that high Omega-3 levels lead to better brain function and higher levels of cognitive processes in children compared to those with low levels of Omega-3s. Studies have confirmed these benefits are likely due to the enhanced neural activation observed with supplementation in healthy children and indicate improvements in Omega-3 status may initiate brain changes to support learning and behavior in healthy children as well.

Food first is always the best approach when it comes to proper nutrition. However, with brain healthy Omega-3s being found predominantly in fatty marine fish and algae, and a tendency for children to be picky eaters, it is more likely for them to develop nutrient deficiencies. If fatty fish isn’t on the menu regularly, supplementation may be a great way to go to support your kids learning, behavior, and long-term brain health.