Food and Behaviour Research

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Efficacy of Omega-3/Omega-6 Fatty Acids in Preschool Children at Risk of ADHD: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial

Döpfner M, Dose C, Breuer D, Heintz S, Schiffhauer S, Banaschewski T (2019) J Atten Disord.  25(8) 1096-1106. doi: 10.1177/1087054719883023. Epub 2019 Nov 2. 

Web URL: Read this and related abstracts on PubMed here

Abstract:

Objective: 

To evaluate the efficacy of an Omega-3/Omega-6 fatty acid supplement in preschool children at risk for ADHD. 

Method: 

Forty preschool children with elevated levels of ADHD symptoms were randomly assigned to either a verum or a placebo group. Children in the verum group received a 4-month treatment with Omega-3/Omega-6 fatty acids.

Outcome measures comprised parent- and teacher-rated ADHD symptoms, which were the primary outcome variables, internalizing and externalizing problems, and intellectual abilities. 

Results: 

Intention-to-treat analyses of covariance, controlling for age and baseline data, revealed effects on parent- and teacher-rated ADHD symptoms (primary outcomes; parent ratings: 
F = 4.51, df = 1, p = .04, d = 0.63; teacher ratings: F = 4.67, df = 1, p = .04, d = 0.70), parent-rated internalizing symptoms (F = 8.47, df = 1, p < .01, d = 0.63), and parent- and teacher-rated externalizing symptoms (parent ratings: F = 4.58, df = 1, p = .04, d = 0.54; teacher ratings: F = 5.99, df = 1, p = .02, d = 0.79).

Analyses involving only cases with available data yielded significant moderate effects on teacher-rated inattention symptoms (
F = 4.60, df = 1, p = .04, d = 0.79) and parent-rated internalizing problems (F = 6.04, df = 1, p = .02, d = 0.57). 

Conclusion: 

The intention-to-treat analyses provide some evidence for positive effects of Omega-3/Omega-6 fatty acids. However, the results require replication in larger samples to allow for firm conclusions for practice.

FAB RESEARCH COMMENT:

Previous clinical trials have provided evidence that dietary supplementation with the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and seafood (EPA and DHA) can reduce ADHD symptoms in children of school-age. See:


However, there has been little investigation to date of whether the same may be true in younger children.

In this small study, researchers showed that similar benefits of omega-3 supplementation may be achieved in children of pre-school age, as both Intent-to-Treat and per-protocol analyses showed significant improvements in both parent- and teacher-rated behaviour for children receiving the active treatment over placebo.

As the researchers emphasise, larger studies of this age-group are still needed to inform clinical practice. 

However, given that
(1) omega-3 EPA/DHA are essential for healthy brain development and function, but often relatively lacking from children's diets, and
(2) earlier intervention for ADHD-type symptoms may help to prevent or reduce the educational and social problems that often follow, it makes sense for all children to receive adequate intakes of these key nutrients - ideally via diet, but with supplementation if needed.

For more news and research articles on the subject of ADHD and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, please see the following lists, which are regularly updated: