EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid, and DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, are omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil. Researchers reporting in the April 2004 issue of "Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids" describe omega-3s as essential both for healthy brain development and maintenance. Although ADHD is typically associated with childhood behavior disorders, a few studies have looked at benefits of supplementing omega-3s in adults with ADHD.
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ADHD can be particularly confusing for adults. According to CHADD, an organization devoted to serving children and adults with ADHD, many adults live with symptoms for decades before being diagnosed, which begs the question of how many remain undiagnosed. Approximately 60 percent of children with ADHD experience symptoms into adulthood. Approximately 4 percent of adult Americans are presently diagnosed with ADHD. Persistent underachievement, inefficiency, forgetfulness and chronic self-belittlement are common symptoms. If you have these symptoms, a qualified professional can determine if these problems are because of ADHD.
Omega-3s have been studied for ADHD benefits because of the nature of the disorder. In ADHD, brain chemistry is faulty due to the failure of neurotransmitters to relay signals between nerve cells. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals, and dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for concentration. The main structural components of nerve cells are omega-3 fatty acids. In ADHD, the nerve cells are omega-3 deficient, blocking dopamine’s transmission from nerve cell to nerve cell. ADHD medications cause dopamine to be pushed across the cells, so focus is improved. Scientists have hoped to achieve similar benefits from omega-3 supplementation.
Researchers reporting in the April 1999 issue of the “Journal of Attention Disorders” described clinical trials examining the effects of omega-3s on ADHD symptoms. Although most studies had been performed on children, the researchers described one study in which a group of 36 adult patients with both ADHD and depression were supplemented 3,000 mg of DHA per day for three months. At the end of the trial, participants’ inattentiveness score fell from an average of 94 at the start of the trial to 17 percent at the end.
Italian researchers reporting in the November 2005 issue of the “European Journal of Clinical Investigation” enrolled 26 adult males with mild ADHD symptoms in a study to evaluate the effect of omega-3 supplementation on their cognitive performance. The men, whose average age was 33, were administered 1,600 mg EPA combined with 800 mg of DHA for 35 days. They were tested for attentiveness and mood, including anger, anxiety and depression. At the end of the trial, the men showed an increase in vigor, a decrease in negative mood states and an improvement in attention span.