Fish oil - a supplementary question
NEW results from Australia suggest supplements of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil could help reduce ADHD-type symptoms in children. The findings come as the UK government awaits the results of a review by the Food Standards Agency before deciding whether to administer fish oil supplements routinely to schoolchildren.
Natalie Sinn, a postdoctoral psychology researcher at the University of Southern Australia, recruited 132 children with ADHD symptoms, aged between 7 and 12. Based on parental ratings, she found those children who were given a proprietary supplement called ‘eye q’ – a combination of omega-3 fish oil and omega-6 evening primrose oil – for 15 weeks, showed significant improvements in hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention, relative to the children given a placebo. These behavioural improvements were not reflected in teachers’ ratings, but Sinn said this could be because ‘there were many incidences of teacher sharing, teachers going on leave and children changing schools, compounded with larger class sizes’.
After 15 weeks, the children previously given placebo also started taking the fish oil supplement, at which point they too started showing benefits. Meanwhile, the children who had been taking the fish oil from the start, continued to show further improvements. Overall, based on parents’ ratings, just under 50 per cent of the children were found to benefit from taking fish oil. The findings are due to be published this month in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioural Paediatrics (see www.jrnldbp.com).
‘We don’t really know how the fish oil supplements help reduce ADHD symptoms,’ Natalie Sinn told The Psychologist. ‘But long chain omega-3 fatty acids are found throughout the brain, for example in the structure of cell membranes, and there’s evidence of deficiencies in omega-3 in other developmental disorders.’
Sinn, who was funded by the University of Southern Australia and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, said she hoped in the future to conduct research into why the fish oils appeared to benefit some children but not others. ‘The varied effects could be because of the overlap of ADHD with other conditions like depression, oppositional disorder, and schizophrenia,’ she said.
Sinn’s findings come on the back of a UK trial last year that found fish oil supplements helped improve the behaviour of children struggling at school (see www.durhamtrial.org). But research into the potential benefits of fish oil for ADHD has not been universally welcomed. Educational psychologist Dr Peter Congdon told us: ‘ADHD can arise from a variety of causes, and a combination of causes and, therefore, treatment should be related to the causation.’ Congdon warned that serious learning difficulties, Asperger’s syndrome, dyslexia and other conditions could all potentially lead to ADHD symptoms, especially if the child became frustrated by their difficulties.
‘What about the confused child who finds concentration difficult because he or she is being abused at home?’ he asked.
‘In my experience children who are referred to me with so-called ADHD are more often than not suffering from a variety of problems. A full educational psychological assessment is required… it is essential to treat the underlying causes and not just the symptoms.’ CJ