Richard G. Petty, MD

Attention Deficit Disorder and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Six months ago we discussed some of the research linking allergy, disturbances of cell membranes and attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity (ADD/ADHD). I also drew attention to the work indicating that there might be a role for omega-3 fatty acids in treatment, the essential fatty acid found primarily in seafood and flaxseed oil. The link between omega-3 fatty acids and ADD/ADHD has come from five lines of evidence:

  1. If animals are deprived of this nutrient, they become hyperactive and their offspring have reduced cognitive abilities
  2. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to the normal growth of the brain
  3. Studies in animals indicate that changing the dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids impacts the all-important dopamine systems of the brain
  4. Children who are breast fed have lower rates of ADD/ADHD, which is independent of any maternal characteristics ,and breast milk contains many essential nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids
  5. Anecdotes and some clinical trials of omega-3 fatty acids in children with ADD/ADHD, though we still don’t know the best way to supplement

Well, the research continues to come thick and fast:

  • Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency may be involved in aggression, hyperactivity and conduct disorder, though the evidence is not as strong as it is for some other nutrients: Iron, zinc and protein deficiency all seem to contribute to aggressive, hyperactive behavior.
  • Another recent study has found low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in children with ADHD.
  • There seems to be an association between ADHD and a deficiecny of a key enzyme in fatty acid metabolism called fatty acid desaturase 1.

All of this led to the announcemet on Friday that the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia is recruiting for a clinical trial of the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the brain function of children with ADHD. The study will examine the effects of these fatty acids on the learning skills, attention span, memory, reaction time and behaviour of 150 children with ADHD over 12 weeks. The effects will also be explored in 100 children without ADHD.

I am encouraged by the way in which the investigators plan to do this work, and I shall keep you posted as data – whether positive or negative – continues to emerge from this study and others.

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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