By Michael A. Smith, MDAttention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common type of behavioral disorder, affecting up to 10% of children and adolescents aged 18 and younger.1-3
Although prevalence usually declines with age, up to 65% of hyperactive children are still symptomatic as adults.
ADHD is a complex psychiatric disorder characterized by a limited attention span, impulsivity, and over-activity. There are actually three disease categories for ADHD:
- Predominantly inattentive
- Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive
- Equally expressed or combined
The Brain, Dietary Fats, and ADHDDietary fats influence brain development, especially in kids. In particular, the omega fats seem to hold the most promise for helping kids with ADHD. The two omega fats important to our discussion in this post are:
- Omega-6 Fats — These fats come from plant-based sources like seeds, nuts, and legumes. They are also found in animal protein like beef and poultry.
- Omega-3 Fats — Of the three main omega fats, omega-3s have been extensively researched. They come in short-, medium- and long-chain varieties, with the long-chain EPA and DHA probably the most beneficial to humans. They can be found in plants, grass-fed animals, and fish.
This inevitably creates an imbalance between dietary fats, which is implicated in attention-deficient and hyperactivity disorders. Re-establishing a healthy ratio of these important fats may help kids with ADHD.
Missing the Exact Cause Makes ADHD Hard to TreatSo now we know that deficiencies in fats and phospholipids, along with genetic and environmental factors, can all play a significant role in ADHD’s development.4,5,6
Unfortunately, the root causes are still unclear. Even though most studies on environmental factors have found an association with ADHD, no solid evidence that these influences actually cause the disorder has been found.
And here’s the problem: When we don’t completely understand the etiology and pathophysiology of a disease, like ADHD, it makes it difficult to treat. That’s the reason prescription psychostimulants often fall short of providing lasting improvements.
So, we need to take a fresh look at the disease and address the dietary deficiencies. This is where the new research comes into play.
New Study Shows ADHD Promise for PhosphatidylserineIn a small study with 36 kids ranging in age between 4 and 14 years, phosphatidylserine (PS) was shown to improve a greater spectrum of symptoms than commonly prescribed ADHD drugs.
The children were randomly assigned to receive either 200 mg a day of cocoa-flavored PS or placebo for two months.7
The results showed that PS produced significant improvements in attention, hyperactivity, impulsive behaviors and short-term auditory memory.
This is impressive, given the poor track record of prescription psychostimulants, which more often than not help with attention but not hyperactivity or vice versa.
The researchers believe that phospholipid and fatty acid deficiencies are associated with abnormal brain cell structure, leading to abnormal function. Deficiencies in essential fats and phospholipids can increase the risk of developing memory problems and ADHD.
So What Does it Mean?Dr. Jaeger, a lead investigator, theorizes that PS supplementation corrects underlying phospholipid deficiencies and imbalances and may be an important treatment strategy in the future. Of course, more testing is definitely needed.
In the meantime, we suggest that you increase your child’s dietary omega-3s and even consider supplementing with phosphatidylserine.
Why? Because it's a treatment plan that’s safe and can be done every day.
- JAMA. 1998 Apr 8;279(14):1100-7.
- J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1999 Jun;38(6):716-22.
- Med Ref Serv Q. 2001 Fall;20(3):31-44.
- J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 1998 Jan;39(1):65-99.
- Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1995 Jun;52(6):464-70.
- Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2006 Oct-Nov;75(4-5):299-308.
- J Human Nutr Diet. Mar 17 2013. doi: 10.1111/jhn.12090 (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jhn.12090/abstract)
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