Jean Baker, MS, RD.Ms. Baker has disclosed that she has no relevant financial or other interests in any commercial companies pertaining to this educational activity.
Review of: Lange KW et al, Curr Psychiatry Rep 2017;19(2):8.
Parents of kids with ADHD often ask about the role of diet and nutrition in their child’s symptoms, and research has uncovered some interesting possibilities. For example, there is some evidence that concentrations of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs, which includes omega-3 fatty acids) may be lower in people with ADHD. Since these PUFAs can potentially affect cognitive functions via effects on the composition of neural membranes, supplementation in those with low levels might help. Zinc, iron, and magnesium are also essential to normal brain function, so it’s possible that supplemental doses of these nutrients can help alleviate symptoms and perhaps allow for reductions in medication dosages. A recent review attempted to shed some light on these questions.
A group of researchers from Germany and Japan reviewed the literature on the use of nutritional supplements for ADHD, focusing on studies published from January 2014 to April 2016. They highlighted several intriguing results, especially relating to omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
For instance, a 16-week, randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial of children with ADHD (N = 95) who received omega-3 fatty acid supplements found improved memory function but no change in behavior. A similar trial of boys ages 12–16 (N = 79) with and without ADHD found that omega-3 supplementation was associated with parent-rated improvements in attention in both groups. A meta-analysis of 10 trials (N = 699) demonstrated a significant treatment effect of omega-3 supplements, albeit modest when compared with standard pharmacotherapy. Another meta-analysis of 13 trials (N = 1,011) found some improvement with combined omega-3 and omega-6 supplementation, but no benefit with either one alone.
Less promising findings come from studies of supplemental use of zinc, iron, and magnesium. Several trials demonstrated a modest effect when zinc or magnesium was added to stimulant therapy, but the slim findings so far have not outweighed the potential for toxicity with extended use of mineral supplements in children, according to the authors.
CCPR’s take While the authors do not specify doses used, this review adds marginal weight to the argument that supplementation with LC-PUFAs, chiefly omega-3 fatty acids, may play a small role in helping to manage symptoms in children with ADHD. For children with ADHD who are not adequately managed on standard therapy or who could potentially benefit from alternate therapy, you might consider a trial of omega-3 fatty acid supplements. Don’t expect miracles, though.