A large meta-analysis strengthens the long-standing conclusion that children and teens with ADHD benefit from taking regular omega-3 supplements.

New Evidence: Omega-3s Improve Attention, Hyperactivity, Cognitive Function

August 23, 2017

Data from ten clinical trials indicates that an omega-3 regimen can significantly boost attention, cognition, and other ADHD-related challenges in children with attention deficit — bolstering the reputation of a frequently recommended natural treatment.

The meta-analysis, published in July in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, looked at seven randomized controlled trials that studied more than 500 children and teens with ADHD. Each trial found that parent-reported symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity were significantly decreased when the child was given an omega-3 supplement, compared to children who were given a placebo. Subjects also did better on measures of cognitive performance when taking omega-3s, the researchers said.

Three additional “case-control” studies indicated that children with ADHD had lower levels of EPA and DHA — components of omega-3 fatty acids — in their blood than did control subjects. Though it’s unclear how omega-3 levels correlate to the severity of ADHD symptoms, the researchers hypothesized that a “biomarker-based personalization approach” may be most effective when designing omega-3 regimens for children with ADHD.

“A recent study by Rapaport has stratified patients with major depressive disorder into a ‘high’ and a ‘low’ inflammation group, and shown that the ‘high inflammation group’ has a better response to EPA,” the authors write. “Therefore, stratification of children with ADHD by n-3 PUFAs [omega-3] levels or by immune biomarkers could be one approach to optimize the therapeutic effects of n-3 PUFAs supplementation.”

Regardless of future treatment potential, experts were cheered by the positive results of omega-3 supplementation in general, as other recent studies have cast doubt on the treatment’s effectiveness. In a commentary published alongside the meta-analysis, Harry Rice, Ph.D., of the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), wrote: “In the past, I’ve been lukewarm on whether increasing EPA/DHA intake benefits children with ADHD,” he said. “Results from this meta-analysis put me a little closer to believing.”