Omega 3 Fatty Acids + the ADHD Connection

By: Theresa Greenwell

Omega-3 fatty acids are nutritionally essential for human health. These fatty acids are critical for the normal development and growth of children, cell membrane integrity, modulating neurotransmitter functions, and the integrity of the GI tract.  As the human body cannot naturally synthesize these fatty acids, they must come from the diet and there is evidence that suggests a connection between ADHD + the availability of these fatty acids.

Omega 3 research continues to show the importance of fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, in the health of children and adults.  This research supports omega 3 usages to reduce the risk of diabetes, improve skin issues such as eczema, reduce depression and mood disorders and improve metabolic conditions.  In some cases, these fatty acids have helped with improvements in behavior, concentration, and learning.


Generally speaking, individuals with ADHD tend to be deficient in essential fatty acids. Even more specifically, they tend to be deficient in omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). These lower levels of PUFAs have been positively associated with an increased severity of symptoms in those with ADHD.  On the other hand, supplementation with omega 3 fatty acids appears to improve some symptoms of ADHD, though omega 3 can only do so much.  Additionally, most researchers cannot agree on which form of omega 3 is best or the amount at which it may be most effective.


A recent meta-analysis in Neuropsychopharmacology (July 2017), looked at studies in regards to young children with ADHD in order to examine the efficacy of omega 3 fatty acids and the levels at which they may be effective.  Total participants from studies reviewed were 628 (366 receiving omega 3 intervention and 262 receiving placebo) and ranged in age from 4-17 years.  Supplementation varied considerably from study-to-study: EPA 80-650 mg, DHA 2.7-640 mg.


Results of the meta-analysis showed that omega 3 supplementation helped to improve total symptoms scores, inattention, and cognitive performance.  Additionally, when EPA was supplemented at 500 mg or greater per day, with or without DHA, researchers noted that a vast improvement in hyperactivity also occurred.


This meta-analysis appears to support other studies in regards to omega 3 fatty acids for those with ADHD.  Studies on children (and adults) using a higher EPA to DHA ratio have shown significant results in relation to health, behavior, and learning.



Chang, J., et al.  Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in youths with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): a systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials and biological studies. Neuropsychopharmacology. Epublished ahead of print July 2017.