If you’re the parent of a child with ADHD who’s looking for a natural treatment approach, you may have heard about an ADHD diet and how, in particular, omega-3 fatty acids can improve symptoms of the disorder. Now, a recent meta-analysis published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology is lending even more credence to the claims. (1)
The Study on How Omega-3s Help Treat ADHD
The meta-analysis examined data from 10 clinical trials that looked at omega-3’s effects on children and teens. Seven of the studies were randomized controlled trials encompassing about 500 young people that looked at whether omega-3 supplements improved ADHD symptoms. Researchers also assessed three case-control studies that measured the levels of two types of omega-3 fatty acids.
What they found was pretty impressive and affects the type of natural remedies for ADHD one would elect. In each of the first seven studies, children and teens who were given omega-3 supplements saw their symptoms of hyperactivity and inattention decrease, when compared to those children who were given a placebo. Additionally, those kids taking omega-3 supplements such as fish oil also saw improved cognitive function.
The final three studies the meta-analysis looked at found that children and adolescents with ADHD have lower levels of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Figures vary, but the latest ones report that 11 percent of children 4 to 17 years old, or 6.4 million, have been diagnosed with ADHD, and that number seems to keep rising. (2) One of the things that’s also changed drastically in the last few decades is our diet, and it’s likely that the two are related.
Omega-3 Supplements: How to Get More of These Key Fatty Acids
While this latest meta-analysis didn’t shed any light into exactly how getting more omega-3s affects ADHD, it’s clear that getting enough of them plays a role.
As an essential fatty acid, our bodies can’t produce omega-3s on their own — we must add them to our diet. And you look at the benefits of omega-3s, it’s unsurprising that they’d play a positive role in easing ADHD symptoms.
Omega-3s are renowned for their ability to lower inflammation. But they’re also stellar at ensuring optimal neurological function, keeping our minds sharp, boosting concentration helping to ease mental disorders like depression and keeping our brains developing healthily — all things you want to address if you’re suffering from ADHD.
Unfortunately, the average American suffers from an omega-3 deficiency, because traditional Western diets are severely lacking the foods that supply the best sources of omega-3s. Luckily, that’s simple to change. The easiest and most efficient way to get more omega-3s into your diet is to eat foods that are rich with them.
When choosing omega-3 foods, it’s best to stay away from processed foods that have been fortified to add omega-3s to them. These days, you can find margarine, sliced breads and protein powders that have omega-3s added to them. You want to avoid these! They’re laden with chemicals and additives.
Instead, you want whole foods that are naturally rich in omega-3s. Some of my favorite omega-3 foods include wild-caught fish like salmon, grass-fed beef, anchovies, tuna, white fish and mackerel.
You might have noticed something fishy about foods with the highest levels of omega-3s. Yes, many of them are oily fish; I recommend eating wild fish about twice a week.
But there are other sources of omega-3 fatty acids as well. Walnuts are particularly high in omega-3s. Seeds, like chia, flax and hemp, are also great sources of fish-free omega-3 fatty acids. Local, free-range eggs are a good choice, too. And vegetables, particularly leafy green ones, contain a decent amount of omega-3s, though not EPA and DHA, the best kinds. But still, you want these in your diet, since they have so many other good-for-you benefits.
In addition to (not in place of!) foods with omega-3s, you should definitely add an omega-3 supplement in the form of fish oil to your child’s diet. I recommend choosing a high-quality omega-3 fish oil of about 1,000 milligrams a day. A good oil has the same ingredients found in cold-water, fatty fish, which are full of DHA and EPA. The best kinds are those containing astaxanthin, which is a powerful antioxidant, so opt for ones made from wild-caught pacific salmon.
Now that you’re getting more omega-3s into your child’s diet, you might want to consider other ways that food could be affecting their ADHD.
As part of a natural remedy plan for ADHD, I recommend avoiding sugar, which is a massive trigger for kids and even some adults. Eliminating gluten, conventional dairy products, artificial food colorings (found in almost all processed foods), soy, artificial sweeteners and MSG may also aid in naturally managing these symptoms.
Adding more omega-3s to your child’s diet might not be a cure to their ADHD and, at least initially, it shouldn’t supplant any treatment they’re already on. But it’s highly likely that omega-3 supplements will make symptoms more manageable; you might even find you can reduce medication after some time. But, at the very least, consuming more omega-3 foods will give your child another natural tool in their arsenal to tackle ADHD.