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Omega-3 essential fatty acid deficiency higher in children with ADHD, despite normal intakes, research reveals

Gary Scattergood

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Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have been found to have a higher deficiency of essential fatty acids despite consuming similar amounts of omega-3 as those without the condition, research from Taiwan suggests.


Blood levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) were lower in children with ADHD than in matched controls, and greater deficiences of these omega-3 were associated with more severe ADHD symptoms, this new Taiwanese study found.  

Previous studies have already reported lower blood levels of omega-3 EPA/DHA in children with ADHD than in typically developing children - and have also shown that supplementation with these essential fatty acids can help to reduce ADHD symptoms. See for example:

However, this new study also assessed dietary intakes of EPA/DHA (of which the main natural source is fish and seafood), which few previous studies have done; and no dietary differences were found between ADHD and control children that could explain their lower blood omega-3 levels.

This finding adds to previous suggestions that ADHD may involve diffferences in the actual metabolism of these special fatty acids within the body and brain, which make it harder to maintain normal levels. 

Difficulties with the absorption of omega-3 EPA/DHA, or excessive breakdown and loss, or a combination of these could help to explain why ADHD children show lower tissue levels of omega-3, despite similar intakes from food.

Further research is needed to investigate these possibilities. Meanwhile, positive results from trials of dietary supplementation suggest that an increased dietary intake of EPA/DHA can help to compensate for whatever metabolic differences may be acting to reduce omega-3 status in children with ADHD.

18 January 2017 - NutraIngredients


Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have been found to have a higher deficiency of essential fatty acids despite consuming similar amounts of omega-3 as those without the condition, research from Taiwan suggests.

Writing in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, researchers from China Medical university said they recruited 21 children diagnosed with ADHD according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and 21 non-ADHD controls.

“The n-3 intake and EFA deficiency severity were recorded while the children were assessed for inhibitory control, delay aversion, and temporal processing with the Go/No Go Task, Delayed Reaction Time Task, and Finger Tapping Task, respectively,” they state.

The ADHD group found to have more EFA deficiency symptoms and poorer performance in delay aversion and temporal processing tasks.

“The main findings of our study are that
(a) the ADHD group had greater EFA deficiency severity than the TD group [despite] no differences in n-3 intake and
(b) ADHD symptoms…correlated positively with EFA deficiency.”

When assessing why ADHD symptoms correlated negatively with omega-3 intake and positively with EFA deficiency, one explanation put forward was metabolic differences between the two groups.

“A possible explanation for a lack of differences of n-3 intake between two groups but more EFA deficiency symptoms in the ADHD group, may be due to the differences in n-3 PUFA metabolism between the two groups,” the researchers said.

“For example, children with ADHD may have either a higher metabolic rate of n-3 or a less efficient n-3 metabolic pathway than [the control] children, resulting in lower n-3 status and more EFA deficiency symptom presentations, despite the similar intake of n-3 in both groups.”

Core symptoms

They added that EFA deficiency has previously been shown to have a positive association with ADHD severity and delay aversion.

“Hence, EFA deficiency may play a role in the clinical manifestation and neurocognitive performance of children with ADHD,” they added.

Around 7-8% of children in Taiwan are thought to have ADHD.

The core symptoms include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity and children with the condition tend to have impairments in daily activities, social interactions, and academic performance, the study notes.

The research concluded that further studies on omega-3 supplementation were now merited.

“Longitudinal studies of n-3 supplementation in children with ADHD focusing on the impact on clinical symptoms and neurocognitive performances will be needed to further support our findings,” they added.

We previosuly reported on a 2015 study from Unilever, which found a daily dose of the omega-3s DHA and EPA may improve attention in kids with and without attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Source: Clinical Psychological Science. November 2016 vol. 4 no. 6 1094-1103