Research related to omega-3 fatty acids, typically derived from fish oil, and hyperactive children has been ongoing since at least 1987. Multiple studies have been conducted concerning fish oil and attention deficit disorder. The results of this research have not always been readily available to parents and doctors may or may not have always been aware of it. Recent surveys have shown that although most doctors are aware of the health benefits associated with fish and fish oil, most do not prescribe or suggest it to their patients.
Current recommendations concerning fish oil and hyperactive children may arise, at least in part, from research conducted at Oxford University in 2005. This research did not focus supplements containing fish oil and attention deficit disorder, but on the possible benefits to children with developmental coordination disorder, a condition affecting approximately 5% of school age children. However, because of the tests used to evaluate the children in the study, some conclusions were made concerning the possible benefits of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for educational and behavioral problems.
There are several types of fats in the human diet. Two of these are referred to as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Research has shown that the average diet is too high in omega-6 fatty acids, found in most meats and dairy products, and too low in omega-3 fatty acids, found primarily in fish. By eating fish three to five times per week, instead of other types of meat, nutritionists believe that this imbalance can be corrected. In addition, many experts recommend daily fish oil supplements.
Dosage recommendations for fish oil supplements vary, depending on several factors. Body weight is, of course, a primary consideration for children. For healthy adults and teenagers over the age of 14, the daily recommended intake of omega-3 fatty acids is 1600mg for men and 1100mg for women. For adults with heart disease or arthritis, the dosage recommendation is usually higher.
Not enough research concerning fish oil and hyperactive children, nor for fish oil and attention deficit disorder has been done to establish dosage recommendations for these conditions. Finding the correct dosage may require analysis of the child’s diet.
Acceptable intake levels of omega-3 fatty acids for children have been defined. From one to three years of age the omega-3 recommendation is 700mg/day, for ages 4-8 900mg/day and for ages 9-13 1200mg/day. These are the amounts that experts believe will prevent deficiencies.
If after evaluating your child’s normal diet, you do not believe that he or she is getting enough omega-3s, supplementation may be advisable. These fatty acids are important to both growth and neurological development.
The fish oil supplements used in the Oxford study contained a total of 732mg of omega-3 fatty acids, given on a daily basis to children between the ages of 5 and12 years of age. Researchers had hoped to see improvement in motor skills after 3 months of active treatment, but there was no improvement in this area.
The areas that did show a significant improvement were in reading and spelling. A reduction in behavioral problems typically associated with ADHD was also noted. As mentioned, the researchers had not initially focused on fish oil and attention deficit disorder, only on developmental coordination disorder, but it was found that a large percentage of the children in the study exhibited the behavioral problems and the difficulty staying on task that is usually associated with ADHD.
None of the children had been formally diagnosed with ADHD, but their scores on assessment tests placed them within the range for a clinical diagnosis of this disorder. Confirmation of the presence of ADHD would have required a complete psychological assessment and was not feasible during the study. The Oxford researchers suggested that further research should be conducted concerning fish oil and hyperactive children, fish oil and attention deficit disorder, and similar behavioral and education problems, in order to establish an effective recommended dosage for these conditions.
No adverse side effects were reported in the Oxford study. No health risks are associated with fish oil supplements, except in the case of those people who are taking prescription blood thinners or who have bleeding disorders.
Over the years, results of research focused on fish oil and hyperactive children have been mixed; likewise for studies concerning fish oil and attention deficit disorder. There could be many reasons for this variation. One possibility is the popularity of Ritalin and other prescription drugs for treating ADHD.
When my son was in elementary school, he was diagnosed with ADHD. The doctors did not evaluate his diet, did not recommend supplements of any kind and immediately prescribed Ritalin. He came home from school and cried every day. He was taking the lowest available dosage and the drug depressed my happy, otherwise healthy, active child.
We never ate fish, because I do not like fish and at the time I did not understand the importance of fish or omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. Now that he is an adult, he eats fish on a regular basis, because he likes it and he suffers from none of the problems found in adults with ADHD.
Could it have been that my son suffered from a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids? I will never know the answer to that question, but the majority of evidence indicates that reading ability and other literacy skills may be improved by increasing intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Hopefully research concerning fish oil and hyperactive children or focused on fish oil and attention deficit disorder will continue. But, many research facilities have trouble obtaining funding for projects that do not focus on prescription drugs. In the meantime, many health care professionals, including me, support the use of omega-3 fatty acids in treating ADHD. To learn more about fish oil supplements, please visit the Fish Oil Guide .
Patsy Hamilton was a health care professional for over twenty years before becoming a freelance writer. Currently she is writing a series of articles about omega-3 fatty acids and fish oil supplements. Read more at http://www.best-fish-oil-dietary-supplements.com