deficiency in Omega-3 Fatty Acids tied to ADHD in boys

Purdue University researchers have found that boys with low blood levels of essential omega-3 fatty acids have a greater tendency to have problems with behavior, learning, and health consistent with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD.

Two types of fatty acids must be obtained from the foods we eat because the body cannot synthesize them. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are both essential to the body. However, evidence is accumulating that a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids may be tied to behavior problems, learning and health problems.

Some previous studies by other researchers indicated that symptoms associated with a deficiency in fatty acids are exhibited to a greater extent in children with ADHD. Those symptoms include thirst, frequent urination and dry skin and hair. The Purdue researchers, however, were able to pinpoint omega-3s as the fatty acids that may be associated with the unique behavior problems in children with ADHD.

ADHD is the most common behavioral disorder in children, affecting between 3 and 5 percent of school-age youngsters. It's diagnosed more often in boys than girls. The cause of ADHD is unknown, but research suggests many factors may contribute to it, including biological and environmental elements. Drugs such as Ritalin are often used to calm children with ADHD and are effective about 75 percent of the time.

For this study, the researchers compared the fatty-acid levels in the blood of 96 boys, ages 6 to 12. Fifty-three of the boys had previously been identified as having ADHD, and 43 did not. Teachers and parents also were asked to rate the subjects on a scale used to assess childhood behavior problems. The parents also filled out a health questionnaire for possible symptoms associated with essential fatty acid deficiencies.

Approximately 40 percent of the boys with ADHD had a greater frequency of symptoms indicative of essential fatty-acid deficiency, as reported by their parents. Nine percent of the boys without ADHD had similar symptoms. Boys with lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids scored higher in the frequency of many behavioral problems. Children with lower omega-6 levels reported significantly more colds and health-related problems than those with higher levels, but they did not exhibit more behavioral problems.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish and other seafood. There are also small amounts of omega-3s in some polyunsaturated oils. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to the proper functioning of the central nervous system. The body doesn't need a great quantity of omega-3 fatty acids; children who have low blood levels of omega-3s may be unable to adequately process the little bit that they need from the foods they eat.

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