Some scientists think the famously serene children of Japan might be benefiting from the omega-3 fatty acid rich Japanese diet. (In Japan, you can also see small children running up to a restaurant buffet to get their breakfast of steamed fish and seaweed.)
Although no one is proposing kiddy-sushi bars, Dr. Barry Sears, more famous as the originator of the Zone diet, has recently turned his attention to treating ADHD with essential fatty acids.
At his Inflammation Research Institute, nine children with ADHD aged 8 to 16 were given 16.2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids (10.8 grams EPA, 5.4 grams DHA) for eight weeks, with some adjustments of the dosage downward as bloodstream concentrations of the omega-3's increased.
At the end of two months, the children were examined by a psychiatrist. The findings?
- Lower levels of inattention.
- Lessened severity of oppositional-defiance disorder.
- Lessened severity of conduct disorder.
- Less hyperactivity.
So what are the cues that any particular child with ADHD might benefit from omega-3 fatty acid supplements?
Childen who are DHA-deficient tend to have:
- Dry skin
- Scaly patches on the skin
- Brittle fingernails
- Frequent thirst and
- Frequent urination.
The absence of these symptoms in a child with ADHD does not mean omega-3 supplementation will not help, but the presence of these symptoms is a strong indicator it will.
"Just a little" supplementation probably will not help. An earlier study found that giving children with ADHD 1.7 grams of omega-3's a day had no real effect.
On the other hand, 16 grams a day is probably an upper limit. Also in the study conducted by Dr. Sears and his associates, one child given 30 grams of liquid omega-3's a day developed diarrhea. Adults, however, can usually take up to 36 grams of omega-3's a day with no consequences other than (with certain brands, depending on how they are encapsulated) "fishy burps."
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Sorgi PJ, Hallowell EM, Hutchins HL, Sears B. Effects of an open-label pilot study with high-dose EPA/DHA concentrates on plasma phospholipids and behavior in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Nutr J. 2007 Jul 13;6:16.