Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids have “promising” therapeutic role in ADHD

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10 Nov 2017 --- Clinically trialed evidence indicates that omega 3 and omega 6 supplementation programs can provide a promising adjunctive therapy for attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), leading to lowering the dose of psychopharmacologic medications needed and improving compliance with these. This is according to a review article published in the Journal of Lipids.

ADHD is a debilitating behavioral disorder affecting daily ability to function, learn and interact with peers. It is a common child-onset neurodevelopmental disorder that occurs in children, adolescents and adults, with an estimated prevalence of 5 to 7 per cent across cultures, the review notes. It adds that the condition can impact heavily on mental health and education, lead to antisocial behavior and personal dysfunction, and increase mortality risk.

Alternative treatment with potential
Medications used to treat ADHD typically include methylphenidate (MPH, also known as Ritalin), amphetamine, and atomoxetine. While MPH may ameliorate some comorbidities, the authors point out that it has been found to be ineffective in eliminating symptoms in 50 per cent of cases. The authors also say that parents appear to be concerned about the long-term effects of their children using medications such as MPH.

Giving further background, the review notes that a number of studies have measured long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids status in individuals with ADHD. For example, one study conducted on young adults (22.3 to 24.3 years) found that the proportion of omega 3 fatty acids was significantly lower in the plasma phospholipids and red blood cells of ADHD participants compared with controls, whilst levels of saturated fatty acids were higher.

Another investigation found that whilst teenagers with ADHD consume similar amounts of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids to controls, their docosahexaenoic acid status was significantly lower, suggesting that there are metabolic differences in fatty acid handling in those with ADHD.

Similarly, another trial showed that the proportions of saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids were higher and lower, respectively, in pediatric patients with ADHD, compared with controls again indicating differences in lipid profiles. Further meta-analytical evidence has concluded that children and young people with ADHD have elevated ratios of blood omega 3 and omega 6, indicating disturbances in fatty acid metabolism in these individuals.

Laboratory research has also identified that omega 3 fatty acids may act in a similar way to “antipsychotics,” possibly by acting on brain receptors and helping to restore oxidative balance, the review points out.

Review suggests different option
For the article, a systematic review of 16 randomized controlled trials was undertaken. Trials included a total of 1,514 children and young people with ADHD who were allocated to take an omega 3 or omega 6 intervention, or a placebo.

Of the studies identified, 13 reported favorable benefits on ADHD symptoms including improvements in hyperactivity, impulsivity, attention, visual learning, word reading, and working or short-term memory. Four studies used supplements containing a 9 : 3 : 1 ratio of eicosapentaenoic acid : docosahexaenoic acid : gamma linolenic acid, which appeared effective at improving erythrocyte levels.

Supplementation with this ratio of fatty acids also showed promise as an adjunctive therapy to traditional medications, lowering the dose and improving the compliance with medications such as methylphenidate. 

The researchers came to the conclusion that given disparaging feelings towards psychostimulant medications, omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids offer great promise as a suitable adjunctive therapy for the frequent and debilitating childhood condition of ADHD. It also appears that parents are looking for complementary treatments for their children to use alongside traditional treatments, the article’s authors add.

Elsewhere in omega 3 and omega 6 news, a prenatal lack of omega 3 and omega 6 has also recently been linked to schizophrenic symptoms in offspring, while a diet rich in omega 6 has been connected to a significantly reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes.

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