Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is typically diagnosed in early childhood. Its symptoms include hyperactive behavior, impulsiveness and difficulty with attention, focus, and concentration. The use of dietary supplements has been suggested as helpful in improving the behavior of children with ADHD. Specifically, the use of omega-3 fatty acid supplements, like flaxseed oil, are thought to help correct a deficiency and improve brain functioning, leading to reduced behavioral symptoms.
Flaxseed oil is derived from the seeds of the flax plant. It has a high concentration of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. More than half of its omega-3 fatty acids are in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is an essential fatty acid that is converted to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA and EPA are the essential fatty acids found in fish oil; however, it is more difficult for the body to convert ALA to DHA and EPA, suggesting that fish oil and flaxseed oil may have slightly different benefits. Flaxseed oil can be taken as a liquid or capsule.
ADHD and Omega-3 Deficiency
According to Harvard Health Publications, researchers believe that children with ADHD may have an omega-3 deficiency that contributes to the symptoms of the disorder. Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in brain functioning, helping with communication between brain cells and conveying the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which could impact the symptoms of ADHD. There is some evidence that children with ADHD have lower levels of omega-3 essential fatty acids, but the link between the use of essential fatty acid supplements and changes in symptoms has not definitively shown that correcting this deficiency is the catalyst for symptom change.
Research on ADHD and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Two studies reviewed by the American Psychiatric Association demonstrated that children with ADHD who took DHA supplements did not show significant symptom improvement. Other studies did indicate that omega-3 and omega-6 supplements may help with ADHD symptoms, but the findings are not clear as to which helps most. It is suggested that children with ADHD eat the recommended amount of omega-3 fatty acids in their diet for a child their age. Another study at the University of South Australia found that the use of omega-3 oil for children with ADHD led to improvement in behavior in about half of the children. Yet another study, published in the "Nutrition Journal," reported that children with ADHD who took a daily omega-3 supplement were reported to show improved behavior by their parents.
Flaxseed Oil Supplementation for ADHD
Although there have been several studies on omega-3 supplement for ADHD, there are very few studies that examine the use of flaxseed oil as the omega-3 supplement for children with ADHD. A pilot study in India found that a flax oil supplement given to children with ADHD led to reduced hyperactive symptoms. Despite the findings from this early study, more evidence is needed on flaxseed oil to determine its specific benefits for ADHD. However, research does suggest some benefit to using omega-3 essential fatty acids as a supplement for children, perhaps with added benefits for children with ADHD. Consultation with a doctor prior to its use is strongly recommended.
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Flaxseed Oil; David Zieve and David Elthz; 2010
- Harvard Health Publications; Diet and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; 2009
- ADHD Information Library; Flaxseed Oil and Vitamin C in ADHD; Joshi et al; 2008
- ADD Treatment; Using flaxseed oil to treat ADD; Dr. Emily Kensington