Revisiting Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

August 30, 2011
Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

Award-winning nutritionist and New York Times bestselling author.

Omegasizing our kids.

Are our children suffering from a Ritalin or Adderall deficiency? Judging by the number of prescriptions for both meds, you would certainly think so (1.9 million for Ritalin in 2005, 8.2 for Adderall 1). While Ritalin is historically the best known and best-selling drug prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), by 1999, Adderall had surpassed it as the ADHD drug of choice: More new prescriptions were written for it than for any other ADHD medication. 2 These two drugs were responsible for 7,873 visits to the emergency room in 2005 due to their many side effects. 3 Both medications are categorized by the Drug Enforcement Agency as “Schedule II” (along with such drugs as cocaine and morphine), meaning they have a high potential for abuse.

Why do we continue to drug our children when nutritional approaches to ADHD management work remarkably well? I don’t think it is by accident that clinical signs of EFA deficiency match symptom to symptom those for ADHD. These include:

• Inability to focus
• Short attention span
• Restlessness
• Irritability
• Mood swings
• Panic attacks

Studies at Purdue University have reported that about 40% of boys with ADHD had more symptoms of essential fatty acid deficiency and had significantly lower levels of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids than controls with normal behavior. The reason for the lower levels is not known but could include lower dietary intake or a metabolic block in the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid pathway. 4

Decosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a major Omega-3 fatty acid found abundantly in fish oil, is critical for brain development, for it is the major structural fatty acid in the central nervous system (brain and spine). A study reported in March 2005 in the Indian Journal of Pediatrics found that infants who received EFA supplements including DHA, scored higher on tasks involving mental processing, psychomotor development and eye-hand coordination at 4 years of age than infants not receiving these supplements. These findings lead the researchers to conclude that EFA and DHA supplementation during preschool years “may also have a beneficial role in the prevention of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and enhancing learning capability and academic performance.” 5

A 15-week Australian study of 104 ADHD children in 2007 looked at the effects of supplementing their diet with EFAs. The study drew its conclusions from parent responses to questionnaires about their children’s behavior. “Medium to strong positive effects” were found on core ADHD symptoms compared with placebo group. 6

A 2009 study reported in the Journal of Attention Disorders, found that a “subgroup of children and adolescents with ADHD, characterized by inattention and associated neurodevelopmental disorders, treated with Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids for 6 months responded with meaningful reduction of ADHD symptoms.” 7

The evidence is clear that to cultivate calmness and good health in our kids, the right kind of fats are absolutely essential. While both Omega-3s and the “good” Omega-6s, found in gamma linolenic acid (GLA), play a vital role in normal brain function, the brain is especially high in omega-3 fatty acids, found abundantly in fish oil and flaxseed oils.

Omega-3-rich flaxseed oil has a particularly dramatic effect on children. Paul Stitt, Wisconsin biochemist turned baker, demonstrated this in the 1997, when he put flaxseed oil in his bread and gave loaves to public schools. Both parents and teachers reported a huge improvement in the children’s behavior. This is no coincidence. Anytime there are changes to the brain cell membranes – which are nourished and fortified with Omega oils – you’re bound to see a positive change in behavior.

Where oil supplements are concerned, the rule of thumb is about 1 tablespoon of fish or flaxseed oil per 100 pounds of body weight. When used to dribble into morning cereals, smoothies, or atop a baked potato, either fish or flax will work well in no-heat recipes. Try this yummy Presto Pesto recipe to add more Omega-3 oil to your child’s diet:

Presto Pesto (makes ½ cup)

1 garlic clove
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
4 tablespoons flax or fish oil
6 tablespoons walnuts
4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Step 1. Place all ingredients in food processor
Step 2. Process until paste is formed, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
Refrigerate and enjoy!

2 “The ADHD Drugs,” 8/20/2011.
5 Singh, Meharban, Indian Journal of Pediatrics, March 2005, Vol. 72, No. 3, 239-242.
6 Sinn, Natalie, PhD and Bryan, Janet, PhD, “Effect of Supplementation with Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Micronutrients on Learning and Behavior Problems Associated with Child ADHD,” Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, vol. 28, Issue 2, 82-91.
7 Johnson, Mats,, “Omega-3/Omega-6 Fatty Acids for Attention Deficit Disorder, A Randomized Placebo-controlled Trial in Children and Adolescents,” Journal of Attention Disorders, 2009, 12 (5), 394-401.

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Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, is an award-winning New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty books including The Fat Flush Plan series and her latest book, Radical Metabolism. She’s been rewriting the rules of nutrition for more than 40 years and is internationally recognized as a pioneer in the field of diet, detox and women’s health issues. 

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  1. Maria

    What would the “dose” of ground flaxseed be for a 50 lb child? Is this comparable in effect to flaxseed oil? Thankyou! I always appreciate your “drug-free” approach to healthy living!!

  2. Miriam

    One and half tablespoons would work.

  3. jay

    Wonderful article. I will pass it on to some school teachers who may find your summary very informative!

  4. Miriam

    The Omega fats are the key to brain, joint, heart, skin, and respiratory health. EFAs are the most important “discovery” of the 20th century.

  5. Pam

    My grandson was diagnosed with ADHD several years ago and was prescribed Concerta. He is 11 years old, and I homeschool him. He doesn’t like taking the medication because of the side effects (tummy problems, sweating, itching sometimes). Some days it works well and others, not so much. I just had someone recommend a supplement called Efalex, but it looks like it might discontinued. Can you recommend a supplement he could take which would taste good or be in a small capsule? He hates taking pills.

  6. liz

    I checked the ingredients in Efalex.It is made from fish and evening primrose oils. UNIKEY has Super-EPA which has the same amount of DHA and it is a smaller gel cap. It is made from fish oil. UNIKEY also has evening primrose capsules, which contains the GLA.UNIKEY also has GLA-90, which is a small gel cap too or is pretty tasty when chewed. Also there is liquid fish oil which has a nice lemon flavor.

    B-Complex Forte is another good one, to help with brain fuction and neurotransmitters.


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