Research update: Omega-3s in ADHD and the importance of personalised dosing according to biomarkers

The latest meta-analysis to look at the benefits of omega-3s in ADHD suggests a potential therapeutic role of omega-3s in ADHD IF dosing is personalised according to individual biomarker status.

The meta-analysis used data from seven randomised controlled trials (the gold standard of intervention research), which included over 500 children with ADHD. They found that supplementing with omega-3 EPA and DHA significantly improved parent rated inattention and hyperactivity, as well as selected measures of cognitive performance. Hyperactivity was only shown to improve when the supplement contained over 500mg of EPA. To date, there has been controversy around the benefits of omega-3s in ADHD due to large variation in study results, however this study found a clear relationship between omega-3 deficiency and ADHD, which adds weight to the body of evidence in support of their use. Omega-3 deficiency is increasingly being linked to a range of brain and neurological disorders and the researchers behind this study stress that successful intervention should be biomarker led.

Previous studies that have failed to show clear benefit from omega-3s in ADHD did not test the omega-3 levels of the participants upon study entry, or dose according to individual needs, as determined by body weight and current cellular levels of these fats; this level of personalisation is something the authors of this meta-analysis highlight as being particularly important for intervention success. As omega-3 deficiency is heavily correlated with ADHD, it is vital that adequate omega-3 is given to achieve ideal cellular levels. In addition, multiple biological pathways and mechanisms are linked to the development of neurological and cognitive disorders and so there is unlikely to be significant benefit in those who do not have a biological need for the nutrient. The need for 500mg of EPA within the dosing regimen also draws attention to the importance of identifying the specific fat that provides the benefit and dosing to provide optimal levels of the identified active ingredient.

Several previous meta-analyses have shown that benefits are only seen with omega-3 use in ADHD when EPA is in excess of DHA and the benefits increase with the dose of EPA. This most recent addition to the research pool further clarifies the need for adequate dosing in order to achieve a positive outcome. Given the safe, well tolerated and highly affordable nature of omega-3s, the study authors and the leading omega-3 authority GOED conclude that, increasing omega-3 intake in children with ADHD is highly recommended, particularly in children with habitually low intake. Ensuring the right dose and types of fats is also important and something very easy to determine with fatty acid testing. The Opti-O-3 fatty acid biomarker test from Igennus is a convenient, at-home pin prick test providing the most comprehensive breakdown of blood plasma fatty acids (screens 24 fatty acids including omega-3 and 6 polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats, saturated and trans fats), together with the most accurate and sensitive biomarkers which provide strong insights relating to inflammatory status and omega-3 and 6 balance, as well as a personalised dose to restore biomarkers to healthy ranges if so required.


Chang JC, Su KP, Mondelli V, Pariante CM. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in youths with attention deficit hyperactivity dsorder(ADHD): a systematic review and meta analysis of clinical trials and biological studies. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017 Jul 25. doi: 10.1038/npp.2017.

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Dr Nina Bailey

About Dr Nina Bailey

Nina is a leading expert in marine fatty acids and their role in health and disease. Nina holds a master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition and received her doctorate from Cambridge University. Nina’s main area of interest is the role of essential fatty acids in inflammatory disorders. She is a published scientist and regularly features in national health publications and has featured as a nutrition expert on several leading and regional radio stations including SKY.FM, various BBC stations and London’s Biggest Conversation. Nina regularly holds training workshops and webinars both with the public and health practitioners.

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