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ADHD symptoms and associated behaviors may be correlated with low omega-3 levels

At a Glance: Two recent studies examined the possible correlation between omega-3 levels and symptoms and behaviors associated with ADHD. Children with ADHD were more likely to have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids, and a correlation between low omega-3 levels and anti-social behavior and emotional regulation was also reported.

Previous research has reported abnormal plasma fatty acid profiles in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and has suggested some symptoms of ADHD may be benefited with omega-3 supplementation.

Recently the journal Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, and Essential Fatty Acids, published two related research studies looking at the possible connection between low blood levels omega-3 acids and emotional health in children.

The aim of the first study was to determine whether ADHD children have abnormal plasma omega-3 levels, and whether ADHD symptoms and associated behaviors are correlated with omega-3 levels. Subjects included 29 male children diagnosed with ADHD and 43 who were not. Plasma DHA was lower in ADHD children compared to controls. Callous-unemotional (CU) traits were found to be significantly inversely related to both EPA and total omega-3s in the group with ADHD. The results showed that anti-social and callous-unemotional traits in ADHD may be associated with lower omega-3 levels.

It is known that ADHD is often associated with poor emotion regulation. In a second study researchers looked at the differences between ADHD and non-ADHD children in omega 3 and 6 fatty acid plasma levels and the potential relationship between them and emotion-elicited event-related potentials (ERPs).

Thirty-one children with ADHD and 32 without were compared in their plasma omega-3/6 levels and corresponding ERPs during an emotion processing task. Children with ADHD had lower average omega-3/6 levels, and ERP abnormalities were significantly associated with lower omega-3 levels in the ADHD group. The results of this study show for the first time that lower omega-3 fatty acids are associated with compromised emotion processing in children with ADHD.

These studies show for the first time that low omega-3 fatty acid levels may be related to poorer emotion regulation and anti-social and callous unemotional traits in male children and adolescents.

Gow RV et al. Omega-3 fatty acids are inversely related to callous and unemotional traits in adolescent boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2013 Jun;88(6):411-8.

Gow RV et al. Omega-3 fatty acids are related to abnormal emotion processing in adolescent boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2013 Jun;88(6):419-29.


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