ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a term used to describe a set of behaviour problems that include hyperactivity, acting impulsively and an inability to concentrate for any length of time. It affects many more boys than girls and because of the difficulty a person with ADHD has in focusing on or carrying out specific tasks; it can interfere with their progress at school.
Fish oil contains the essential Omega 3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) both of which are required for healthy brain development and function. These are essential fatty acids that the body cannot produce itself so it has to source them from diet. Omega 3’s can be found in high quantities in oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and tuna. Most of us are not getting enough of the Omega 3’s in our diet, and instead, we are consuming far too much of Omega 6 fatty acids, which can be found in plentiful supply in vegetable oils such as corn oil and sunflower oil, meat products and processed foods.
EPA helps the brain to function and increases the blood flow around the body, including blood flow to the brain. The brain is constructed mostly of DHA, which is vital for healthy brain development in the early years. Both EPA and DHA are equally important but we can produce DHA if we are getting enough EPA.
If there is a lack of the right kind of fatty acids that the brain needs to develop and function properly, such as EPA, it will try to build replacement fatty acids with what it has to work with. This is obviously not ideal if we are not getting the right kind of fats through diet. Some studies have shown high levels of these replacement fatty acids in children with ADHD and this would appear to be linked to a diet rich in Omega 6 fatty acids and deficient in Omega 3’s. Males also need more essential fatty acids than females, which could explain why ADHD is more common in boys.
The health benefits of taking fish oil supplements are now well documented and the UK government is currently considering giving fish oil to schoolchildren as part of a general initiative to improve nutrition. Several studies conducted in the UK showed that children taking high EPA fish oil had increased concentration levels, improved their exam results and demonstrated less hyperactive behaviour in the classroom. Research continues but there is a growing awareness of how high EPA fish oil can help to alleviate the symptoms of ADHD and other brain related disorders. One Australian study even suggested that fish oil could be just as effective as Ritalin in treating ADHD, and perhaps even more so.