What are the Effects of Fish Oil on ADHD?

Sarah Kay Moll

Fish oil is a supplement derived from oily fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have many health benefits. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disorder characterized by inattentive and hyperactive or impulsive behaviors that are severe enough to interfere with daily cognitive and behavioral tasks. The effects of fish oil on ADHD have been shown in some studies to reduce the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of ADHD. Fish oil also has other health benefits, and can improve other psychological disorders such as depression.

Mackerel is often used as the source for fish oil tablets.
Mackerel is often used as the source for fish oil tablets.

Children with ADHD may show inattentive behaviors such as daydreaming in class, difficulty following instructors or difficulty having a long conversation. They may also have hyperactive and impulsive behaviors such as shouting out the answer to a question before being called on or frequently interrupting others. To diagnose ADHD, these symptoms must be present across different situations, such as at home and at school.

Children with ADHD may have difficulty paying attention in class and having long conversations.
Children with ADHD may have difficulty paying attention in class and having long conversations.

The cause of ADHD is unknown, however, there is some evidence that brain function may be different in people with ADHD. Exposure to toxins through the environment or prenatally as a result of a mother’s smoking or alcohol intake may also play a role. Some studies have hypothesized that deficiencies in fatty acids such as the ones found in fish oil may also play a role in ADHD. This may be why the effect of fish oil on ADHD is beneficial.

Problems at home between parents may cause a child to become hyperactive.
Problems at home between parents may cause a child to become hyperactive.

Small studies have shown the effects of fish oil on ADHD can reduce hyperactive and inattentive behaviors and also help with scholastic problems. Larger placebo-controlled studies are necessary to draw a firm conclusion about the beneficial effects of fish oil on ADHD. Fish oil supplements are relatively harmless and have few side effects, making them an attractive supplement to a treatment plan.

The effects of fish oil on ADHD do not cure the disorder. Fish oil is not a substitution for medical and psychological care. Children with ADHD do best when they are treated with both medications and psychotherapy. The most common medications for ADHD are stimulants, which actually seem to calm hyperactive children. Psychotherapy can help children change their behavior and develop healthy relationships. School interventions can help if a child is struggling scholastically.

The use of fish oil for psychological disorders is not new. Fish oil has been helpful in treating symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders. It also improves cardiovascular health and can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Fish oil supplements are rich in healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, commonly called DHA.
Fish oil supplements are rich in healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, commonly called DHA.

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