omega 3 supplements for adhd

Fish Oil for ADHD: Does It Help?

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If you’re looking for supplements that help ADHD, you may have come across research about fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids. Taking an omega-3 for ADHD could benefit children, teens, and adults. Below, we cover everything you should know about taking fish oil for ADHD.  

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in certain foods, including flaxseed and fish. They’re also in supplements, like fish oil.

There are three primary omega-3 fatty acids. These are:

  • Alpha-linolenic acid or ALA
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA
  • Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA

ALA is mostly from plant oils such as soybean and flaxseed oil, while DHA and EPA are primarily in seafood and fish. Fish high in omega-3s include cold-water fatty fish like tuna, salmon, herring, and sardines. Nuts and seeds like chia seeds and walnuts also have omega-3s.

ALA is an essential fatty acid, so your body can’t make it. You have to get it from your diet. Your body can convert small amounts of ALA into EPA and then DHA, but it’s best to try and get plenty from food and supplements.

Omega-3s are part of the membranes that surround every cell in our bodies. Levels of DHA are particularly high in the eye, brain, and sperm cells. Omega-3s also play a role in the health of many of our bodily systems, including the immune system, endocrine system, lungs, and blood vessels.

Alpha-Linolenic Acid (APA)

APA is the most common type of omega-3 you’re getting from your diet, and it’s a needed precursor to EPA and DHA. As mentioned, this conversion process isn’t very efficient in humans, so only a small percentage of ALA you consume is converted into EPA. Even less of it is converted into DHA.

If ALA isn’t converted to one of the other fatty acids, it’s stored like different types of fat or used as energy.

Some studies show a diet high in ALA could reduce the risk of heart disease deaths, but others show too much ALA could increase the risk of prostate cancer. The increased risk of prostate cancer isn’t seen with DHA or EPA.

Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)

The body uses EPA to produce eicosanoids, signaling molecules playing a role in inflammation and other physiological processes. Chronic ongoing inflammation is linked with many diseases.

Studies have shown EPA to have various benefits, including a reduction in hot flashes in women in menopause and reduced symptoms of depression.

EPA is most highly concentrated in salmon, shrimp, and herring. Grass-fed animal foods like meat and dairy also have some EPA.

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

DHA is a component that helps serve as a foundation for the structure of your eyes and skin. DHA is essential for brain development and function in childhood and is also vital for adult brain function.

Decreased levels of DHA later in life are associated with impaired cognitive function and Alzheimer’s disease.

DHA deficiency early in life is associated with ADHD, learning disabilities, and aggression.

DHA has potential benefits for arthritis, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer.

Dietary sources of DHA include seafood and algae, and some animal products.

How Omega-3 Fatty Acids Impact Health

Some of the potential benefits that these healthy fats can have include:

  • It may help with anxiety and depression—studies show that people who regularly consume omega-3s are less likely to have depression. In people with anxiety and depression, taking an omega-3 supplement may improve their symptoms. EPA appears to be the most beneficial of the three types of omega-3s for mental health.
  • Eye health—getting adequate fatty acids may reduce the risk of macular degeneration, which is one of the most common causes of blindness and permanent eye damage globally, and DHA is a significant component of your eye’s retina.
  • Heart heat—omega-3s can benefit your health in various ways. They can, for example, prevent platelets from clumping together, reducing the risk of blood clots. They can also reduce inflammation and lower harmful cholesterol while raising good cholesterol.
  • Metabolic syndrome—taking an omega-3 supplement could benefit people with metabolic syndrome and improve related symptoms like inflammation and blood sugar.
  • Reduced inflammation—inflammation can contribute to nearly every chronic disease. Chronic inflammation contributes, for example, to cancer and heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce molecule production related to inflammation, such as cytokines.
  • Autoimmune diseases—when someone has an autoimmune disease, their immune system will begin to attack healthy cells, mistaking them for foreign cells. Increased intake of fatty acids may help reduce the risk of developing an autoimmune disease. Fatty acids may also help treat conditions like Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
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Understanding ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is one of the most common childhood neurodevelopmental disorders leading to behavioral and learning difficulties.

The condition is usually first diagnosed when someone is a child based on their ADHD symptoms, and it lasts into adulthood for many people.

If a child has ADHD, they might have problems controlling their impulsive behaviors and paying attention. Children with ADHD are also often overly active.

There are three types of ADHD.

  • The first is ADHD combined type, which is most common and is characterized by hyperactive, impulsive behaviors, distractibility, and inattention. Specific ADHD symptoms of the combined type include a short attention span, easily distracted, forgetfulness, and difficulty listening to others. A child with this type of ADHD might interrupt others frequently and have difficulty waiting for their turn.
  • The second type is ADHD, the impulsive/hyperactive type. This is the least commonly diagnosed type, characterized by impulsivity and hyperactivity but without distractibility and inattention.
  • Then the third type is ADHD, inattentive and distractible. Characteristics of this type include inattention and distractibility but not hyperactivity.

Researchers aren’t yet entirely sure what causes ADHD, and there is evidence that there are genetic components. It’s considered a biological disorder of the brain, and there are often low dopamine levels in children with ADHD.

In brain imaging studies, researchers have identified that the brain metabolism in kids with ADHD is lower in parts of the brain controlling movement, social judgment, and attention.

ADHD Treatment and ADHD Medication

In conventional medicine, there is usually a combination of treatment approaches used to manage symptoms of ADHD. Behavioral therapy is one, and psychostimulant medications are another. For younger children, the primary focus is usually on behavioral therapy before using drugs.

Psychostimulant medicines balance brain chemicals that prevent someone from controlling their impulses and maintaining attention. They help stimulate the brain to focus. Medications that are prescribed for ADHD include methylphenidate and dextroamphetamine.

While these medications can be effective, they can also have some challenging side effects.

These side effects can include headaches, jitteriness, insomnia, decreased appetite, and stomach aches.

Fish Oil and ADHD

 It’s possible that fish oil supplements could have benefits for ADHD symptoms. A fair amount of scientific evidence shows the benefits of fish oil in ADHD for adults and children.

In general, even outside of ADHD, omega-3 fatty acids can potentially optimize brain function.

Omega-3s can boost the synthesis of dopamine. Dopamine is the brain neurotransmitter that ADHD medications increase.

In a study published in Pediatrics, research authors said that a lack of polyunsaturated fatty acids might contribute to dyslexia and ADHD. In this study, children were given omega-3 supplements for ADHD that were high in essential fatty acids. The school-aged children took these for three months, and during this time, there were significant improvements in reading, behavior, and spelling.

Fish oil supplements primarily include EPA and DHA and can be essential for brain health and function. Fatty acids are part of the nerve cell membranes, the outer layer of cells. They help regulate inflammation and cellular communication.

In a 2016 review of 25 different studies done between 2000 and 2015, most children between the ages of 6 and 13, some findings showed young people with ADHD often have lower levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in their blood, or omega-3 PUFAs, which are needed for brain function and development.

Further studies and clinical trials are needed to look at the beneficial effects of taking supplements with fish oil to reduce symptoms or manage symptoms of ADHD and to promote a healthy brain, but what’s available right now regarding the use of an omega three fatty acid looks promising, especially when compared to the side effects of stimulant drugs in school-aged children.

Are Fish Oil Supplements Safe?

While we might need more research to determine how effective omega-3s for ADHD are, we know that fish oil supplements are generally considered safe and may have numerous benefits.

The one real issue with a fish oil supplement could be if you take medications affecting blood clotting. Omega-3 and fish oil supplements could interfere with these medicines.

If you have a seafood allergy, researchers don’t know if fatty acid supplementation with fish oils is safe.  

How to Choose a Fish Oil Supplement

If you’re considering an omega-3 supplement for ADHD, there’s certainly no shortage of options. These are among the most popular supplements on the market, so deciding which is right for you is overwhelming.

Some of the types of supplements available include:

  • Natural fish oil: This comes from the tissue of oily fish, and it’s the closest thing to eating real fish. There are nutrients, including EPA and DHA, as well as vitamins A and D. You can find natural fish oil supplements in liquid or capsule form, and they’re often derived from cod liver, salmon, sardines, or herring.
  • Processed fish oil: With a processed fish oil supplement, the product goes through a process to eliminate contaminants like mercury. When the oil is concentrated as it is with a processed option, it can increase the levels of EPA and DHA. Your body doesn’t absorb some processed fish oils as well, and these are pretty rare to see on the market.
  • Krill oil: This comes from the Antarctic kill, which is a small animal like a shrimp. Krill oil contains omega-3s in two forms—triglyceride and phospholipid form. Krill are small, so they don’t accumulate many toxins in their life, so the oil doesn’t need to be purified. These also include astaxanthin, which is a strong antioxidant.
  • Green-lipped mussel oil: The green-lipped mussel is native to New Zealand, and it contains not only EPA and DHA but also something called eicosatetraenoic acid or ETA, which is very effective at lowering inflammation. Green-lipped mussel oil is more sustainable and environmentally friendly than fish oil.
  • Algal oil: Marine algae can be a source of EPA and DHA. The EPA and DHA in fish actually start from algae, and smaller fish eat the algae and then move up the food chain. Algae oil is rich in omega-3s—more so than fish oil, and it also contains minerals like iodine. It’s also considered a sustainable source of fatty acids.

When you’re thinking about buying the best omega-3 supplement for ADHD, some considerations to keep in mind are:

  • What types of omega-3s does the supplement contain? You want to ensure your supplement is focused on DHA and EPA because these are the most important.
  • Read the label carefully to determine how much EPA and DHA are in a fish oil supplement. For example, the supplement might say on the front label that each capsule contains 1,000 mg of fish oil but then when you look at the actual ingredients, it contains just a few hundred milligrams of EPA and DHA.
  • Absorption is important when choosing any supplement, so look for free fatty acids (FFA), TG, rTG (triglycerides and reformed triglycerides), and phospholipids or PLs. Avoid ethyl esters or EE.
  • If a fish oil supplement goes bad, it’s going to smell, and it’s going to be less potent or even dangerous. Check the date on products before using them.
  • If you want a sustainably sourced product, look for one that the Environmental Defense Fund or MSC has certified.

What’s the Best Omega 3 for ADHD Adults?

If you’re an adult with ADHD or have problems with focus and concentration, our pick for the best omega-3 supplement is Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega 2X Mini D3. Nordic Naturals is an excellent brand that takes its products very seriously, and they have an outstanding reputation.

This product contains highly concentrated omega-3 fish oil and added D3, supporting mood and immune system health.

All of the concentrates from Nordic Naturals are in the triglyceride molecular form, optimizing absorption. These are mini soft gels, so they’re easy to swallow, and they have a fresh lemon flavor.

Nordic Naturals also leads the way regarding sustainability and ethical practices in the industry.

The Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega contains 1120 mg of total omega-3s per dose, including 586 mg of EPA, 456 mg of DHA, and 78 mg of other omega-3s. The fish oil is from anchovies and sardines.

There are just a few ingredients in this fish oil, including rosemary oil, a natural preservative.

There are no artificial flavors or colors, milk derivatives, or gluten.

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What’s a Safe Omega-3 Dosage for ADHD Adults?

Studies haven’t determined an ideal dose of omega-3 for adults with ADHD or children, but you can likely take 1,000 mg daily. In some studies, including one in Japan, very high doses of omega-3s were given, but the FDA recommends that you don’t take any more than 3,000 a day. Talk to your doctor with any other questions you might have.

You can also start on the lower end and move your omega-3 for ADHD dose up as you feel like you need to until you see improvements.

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What’s the Best Omega-3 Supplement for ADHD in Kids?

For kids, our recommendation for the best omega-3 supplement for ADHD is also from Nordic Naturals. They have a Nordic Omega-3 Gummy product that’s fantastic and easy for kids to take. The supplement contains both EPA and DHA at a lower dose that can be better for kids. It’s non-GMO and doesn’t contain artificial colors or flavors.

The dose for this omega-3 product is two gummies.

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Final Thoughts

It’s possible that adding a fish oil supplement to your daily routine or your child’s routine could help with symptoms of ADHD, including inattention and difficulties focusing. Childhood ADHD is one of the most common psychiatric disorders. Study results suggest that fish oil has effects on the ADHD brain that could potentially reduce symptoms for children with attention deficit disorders.

You could also get the benefits and improve ADHD symptoms by eating fish more often, but it can be a challenge to do that, even with a healthy diet, which is why taking fish oil could be a better approach to improve ADHD symptoms.

If you have questions before starting a new supplement, talk to your doctor or your child’s pediatrician.

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