Skip to main content

As a clinical psychiatrist, parents often bring their children to me expecting to be told that their child has some serious mental disorder only for it to turn out to be a simple nutritional deficiency. One of the more common deficiencies I see in my patients are low levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

Several studies show that kids who have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) also have corresponding low Omega-3 blood levels. For example, research from the Oregon Health & Science University showed that blood levels of omega-3 in children with ADHD are on average 38% lower than in children who don’t have the disorder.1

Other studies from England also tied Omega-3 deficiency to common ADHD symptoms such as learning difficulties and problems dealing with emotions.2, 3

But are these children’s omega-3 levels low because they aren’t eating enough omega-3-rich foods, such as tuna and salmon, or is there something else at play?

Certainly, eating a diet low in omega-3 has been linked with a higher risk of being diagnosed with ADHD, as shown in one study involving almost 200 schoolchildren.4 However, the problem can be made even worse by the child’s genes.

ADHD Genetics

Scientists at the MRC Social Genetic Developmental Psychiatry Centre in London decided to find out if the genetic profile of ADHD extended to essential fatty acids. They studied 180 ADHD children and 180 without the disorder—and found that the ADHD children had a 60 to 70% greater likelihood of a variation in a gene necessary to metabolize fatty acids such as omega-3.5

Regardless of the reason for a deficiency, it is of the utmost importance for your children to have the right amount of omega-3. If they don’t, they will miss out on all the benefits it offers.

How do omega-3 fatty acids help ADHD?

Omega-3 is so effective that just restoring a child’s omega-3 levels may make their ADHD manageable without prescription medication. The following are just a few of the ways omega-3 can help your ADHD child.

Eased hyperactivity:

Analyzing data from 16 studies on ADHD and omega-3, researchers at Oregon Health & Science University found that supplementing the diet with omega-3s consistently lessens hyperactivity, as evaluated by parents and teachers.1 Australian research supports omega-3’s role in calming hyperactivity, showing a marked decrease in hyperactivity in children after a four-month regime of the fatty acid.8

Improved mood:

The same Australian study that demonstrated a decrease in hyperactivity also shows that omega-3 can decrease hostility and disobedience.6 Other studies show that taking this supplement can make ADHD patients less moody and more cooperative.7, 8

Increased attention span:

Several studies showed that adding omega-3 supplements to the diet can increase a child’s attention, one of the major symptoms of ADHD.6, 7

Better memory:

Studying 95 children diagnosed with ADHD, German researchers found that supplementing with omega-3s improved “working memory”—the short-term recall that is key to learning.9

Better sleep:

Israeli researchers studied 78 ADHD children (ages 9 to 12) with sleep problems, giving them either an omega-3/omega-6 supplement or a placebo.10 This not only led to the children sleeping better, but they were also less fatigued during the day.

Omega-3: A supplement or main treatment?

Is omega-3 effective enough to stand on its own as a treatment for ADHD, or should it be combined with a “traditional” ADHD medication?

At least one study showed that combining a stimulant medication with an omega-3/omega-6 supplement improved the drug’s ability to reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity, and reduced negative side effects.11

Sometimes prescription medications don’t work though. In one such case, researchers studied 98 ADHD children who weren’t helped by stimulant medications and behavioral therapy, giving half of them omega-3 and half a placebo.12

After six months, the children taking omega-3 were less restless, less aggressive, less impulsive, more cooperative with parents and teachers, and were doing better at school.

As with any treatment, the best solution is tailored for the patient. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. However, trying omega-3 supplements will most like be beneficial for boosting attention, even for children without ADHD, as was found in one Dutch study.11

Recognition of the value of omega-3 in ADHD

Researchers in the Section of Nutritional Neurosciences at the National Institutes of Health analyzed one year of studies on omega-3s and ADHD. They concluded that because ADHD costs Americans tens of billions of dollars yearly; and because children with ADHD often don’t respond to medication or stop using medication because of side effects—omega-3s are an important area for future scientific investigation.13

In my popular book on an amazingly effective treatment approach to ADHD, Finally Focused, I discuss omega-3 fatty acids, other essential vitamins and minerals, as well as several other forms of potential treatment to help patients with ADHD.


Yours in health,

James M. Greenblatt, MD
Founder, Medical Director, Psychiatry Redefined

You might also be interested in learning about the effectiveness of adding Vitamin D to your ADHD child’s diet.


    1. Widenhorn-Müller K, et al. Effect of supplementation with long-chain ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on behavior and cognition in children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): a randomized placebo-controlled intervention trial. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes And Essential Fatty Acids, 2014 Jul-Aug;91(1-2):49-60.
    2. Yehuda S, et al. Effects of essential fatty acids in iron deficient and sleep-disturbed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) children. European Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, 2011 Oct;65(10):1167-9.
    3. Perera H, et al. Combined ω3 and ω6 supplementation in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) refractory to methylphenidate treatment: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Journal of Child Neurology, 2012 Jun;27(6):747-53.
    4. Bos DJ, et al. Reduced symptoms of inattention after dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in boys with and without Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Neuropsychopharmacology, 2015 Sep;40(10):2298-306.
    5. Gow RV, et al. Current evidence and future directions for research with omega-3 fatty acids and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Current Opinion In Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 2015 Mar;18(2):133-8.
    6. Hawkey E & Nigg JT. Omega-3 fatty acid and ADHD: blood level analysis and meta-analytic extension of supplementation trials. Clinical Psychology Review, 2014 Aug;34(6):496-505.
    7. Montgomery P, et al. Low blood long chain omega-3 fatty acids in UK children are associated with poor cognitive performance and behavior: a cross-sectional analysis from the DOLAB study. PLoS One, 2013 Jun 24;8(6):e66697.
    8. Gow RV, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids are related to abnormal emotion processing in adolescent boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes And Essential Fatty Acids, 2013 Jun;88(6):419-29.
    9. Woo HD, et al. Dietary patterns in children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Nutrients, 2014 Apr 14;6(4):1539-53.
    10. Brookes KJ, et al. Association of fatty acid desaturase genes with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Biological Psychiatry, 2006 Nov 15;60(10):1053-61.
    11. Cooper RE, et al. The effect of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on emotional dysregulation, oppositional behaviour and conduct problems in ADHD: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal Of Affective Disorders, 2016 Jan 15;190:474-82.
    12. Milte CM, et al. Increased erythrocyte eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid are associated with improved attention and behavior in children with ADHD in a randomized controlled three-way crossover trial. Journal of Attention Disorders, 2015 Nov;19(11):954-64.
    13. Milte CM, et al. Eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids, cognition, and behavior in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Nutrition, 2012 Jun;28(6):670-7.