Children With ADHD, Dyslexia May Benefit From Fatty Acids

January 30, 2002

2 Min Read
Children With ADHD, Dyslexia May Benefit From Fatty Acids

LONDON--Children with dyslexia and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may find learning easier if they supplement their diets with fatty acids, announced the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance (DSEA) in a press release today. According to researchers from Oxford University and Imperial College School of Medicine who published a study in the February 2002 issue of Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry (26:233-39, 2002) (, children taking a combination therapy of fatty acids--including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) derived from fish oil, and gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and linoleic acid derived from evening primrose oil--demonstrated improved behavior and cognition.

The three-month clinical trial involved 41 boys and girls (ages 8 to 12) with literary problems who were referred to a special school in Northern Ireland. Researchers confirmed these children met diagnostic criteria for developmental dyslexia. In addition, many of the students demonstrated classic symptoms of ADHD, although none of the children had been officially diagnosed. "Approximately 4 percent of children are affected by ADHD, one of the most common mental disorders in children and adolescents, and an estimated 6.8 percent of children may have dyslexia," Jerry Cott, Ph.D., a scientific advisory board member of the Dietary Supplement Information Bureau (DSIB).

The study's authors noted that children with behavioral and learning difficulties, attributable to dyslexia or ADHD, tend to under-consume fatty acids, which are important for brain development and function. In order to assess the validity of their theory, researchers administered an olive oil placebo to 19 children and a combination of essential fatty acids to 22 children in the supplement group. The supplement therapy contained 186 mg/d of EPA, 480 mg/d of DHA, 96 mg/d of GLA, 60 IU/d of vitamin E, 864 mg/d of cis-linoleic acid, 42 mg/d of arachidonic acid (AA) and 8 mg/d of thyme oil.

At baseline, scores for the two groups did not differ significantly. However, after three months of supplementing with fatty acids, a follow-up with 29 of the children revealed that the treatment group demonstrated improvements in test scores and a reduction in behavioral problems as compared to the placebo group.

"Our study reinforces the assertion that in some children, learning difficulties and ADHD-related symptoms are responsive to dietary supplements providing the appropriate fatty acids," said Alexandra Richardson, M.D., one of the study's authors. "A variety of symptoms characteristic of ADHD improved in the children receiving the fatty acid mixture compared to an olive oil placebo without any apparent side effects."

Richardson noted that this treatment may have application for numerous children, although the study results need to be confirmed in a large clinical trial setting. Cott added, "Reducing the symptoms without the side effects of prescription medications would be spectacular news for many current sufferers and could encourage a large number of children, as well as adults, now going untreated to seek relief for their symptoms."

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