- On June 5, 2019
As a parent, you want to do everything in your power to tame the tornado of stressors that comes with conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Supplementation of omega-3’s have been thoroughly discussed to help improve behaviors related to these conditions. Since both ASD and ADHD are neurodevelopmental disorders, it would stand to reason that a supplement such as omega-3, which is linked to brain health and development, would be a viable option to reduce these symptoms. There’s no need to meet the wizard, just read below to learn about the effectiveness of omega-3 supplementation in ASD and ADHD.
What is omega-3?
Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential fat that we must get from our diet. There are three main types of omega-3: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA can be obtained from plant sources such as nuts, seeds, flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils. EPA and DHA can be found in animal sources such as fish.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for forming cellular membranes as well as their neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties; deficiencies in this nutrient have been reported in many neurological disorders such as ADHD, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and ASD. These characteristics have made omega-3 supplementation a complementary treatment option for both ASD and ADHD.
Omega-3 and ASD
ASD presents with a slew of different symptoms including delayed language development, repetitive and/or particular behavior, social withdrawal, sensory issues, hyperactivity, and more. Many studies have found that children with ASD often have omega-3 imbalances and some studies have shown that supplementation of omega 3 fatty acids improved parent-reported ASD behaviors such as hyperactivity, lethargy, and stereotypy. Additionally, omega-3 may be linked to improvement in social responsiveness and sensory processing. Most studies are dependent on parenteral reports and anecdotes so more research is needed to draw conclusive results on the benefits of omega-3 supplementation in ASD symptoms.
Omega-3 and ADHD
Similar to ASD, children with ADHD have omega-3 imbalances. It has been shown that EPA and DHA levels are lower in those with ADHD. There have been many reviews of studies testing the effects of omega-3 on ADHD behaviors and results support the use of supplementation. Overall, EPA seems to provide the most benefit in improving ADHD behaviors but supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids in general showed improvement of hyperactivity, impulsivity, attention, visual learning, word reading, and working/short-term memory in children with ADHD. The studies have found that omega-3 supplementation may act as a promising compliment to traditional ADHD medication and may be able to lower the dose needed and increase compliance with taking the medications.
Omega-3 plays an important role in the body. Adequate intake of this nutrient may be beneficial for those with ASD and ADHD and poses little to no harmful side-effect when supplemented so don’t be afraid to follow that yellow brick road to some foods rich in omega-3’s!
Written by: Taylor Wooten
Dietetic Intern, Southern Regional Medical Center
Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics, University of Florida
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