Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Child Mental Health: Focused on ADHD

Jane Pei-Chen Chang, MD, MSc



Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are important nutrients for the developing brain. The current literature showed that n-3 PUFAs deficiency may play a role in the pathogenesis of neurodevelopmental disorder, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, the study findings on the associations between n-3 PUFAs and ADHD have been controversial. This study is aimed to investigate the association between n-3 PUFAs, clinical ADHD symptoms and cognitive function in children with ADHD. First part of the study is a case-control study examining the n-3 PUFAs intake, essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiency, ADHD symptom severity and neurocognitive function in 21 children with DSM-IV diagnosis of ADHD and 21 typically developing youth (TD). The second part of the study is the meta-analysis of 7 clinical trials of n-3 PUFAs supplementation in youth with ADHD (n=534). The children with ADHD, when compared with TD, had a greater severity of EFA deficiency (7.24 + 4.56, p= .02). Moreover, severity of ADHD symptoms was positively correlated with severity in EFA deficiency. Meta-analysis showed children with ADHD had lower levels of total n-3 PUFAs (g=-0.58, p=0.0001), and n-3 PUFAs supplementation, compared to placebo, improved total ADHD scores in children with ADHD (g=0.38, p<0.0001). In our study, children with ADHD had a higher EFA deficiency and lower levels of n-3 PUFAs. Moreover, n-3 PUFAs supplementation improved inattention and hyperactivity symptoms in children with ADHD. Our study further supports the role of n-3 PUFAs in ADHD. N-3 PUFAs may serve as a potential alternative treatment option for children with ADHD.