• Jasmine Blake Hollywood, MS, HHP

Omega Fatty Acids for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Updated: May 24, 2020

What is Attention Deficit Disorder

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition that is explained as having hyperactivity-impulsiveness and severe lack of attention to the point where the condition impairs ability to effectively learn, socialize, or function in an occupational environment. [2]. This condition can affect children and easily continue into adulthood. The cause of this disorder is unknown, but treatment options are available and include medication and behavioral therapy. [2]. The impaired utilization of or deficiency of dopamine seems to be an underlying factor to effective treatment options. [2]. Dietary modifications have been reported by parents, practitioners, and research studies as a successful way to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.


Research has proven the disorder is exacerbated by things such as food allergies, sugars, food additives, and salicylates. It is highly recommended that an overall change in dietary habits and avoiding foods that contain these ingredients, especially dyes in particular. [2]. The supplement intervention other nutrition practitioners would recommend is effectively treating effective disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder with essential fatty acids. [2].

General Education

Essential Fatty Acids have been used in numerous studies to effectively treat ADHD. [2]. Many researchers, authors, scholars, and clinical studies have found that most children with this particular type of effective disorder lack essential fatty acids. [6]. Mahan and colleagues (2014) suggest that people with ADHD cannot effectively metabolize linoleic acid. [6]. Thus, they cannot absorb the fatty acids into their small intestine. [6].

It is possible that this is due to a "block in the conversion of linoleic acid to gamma-linoleic acid by enzyme delta-6-desaturase." [2]. Another suggestion is that they genetically need a higher amount of os essential fatty acids than most other people do. [6].Lack of essential fatty acid, Alpha- Linoleic Acid, has been linked to lower levels of dopamine or decreased levels of signaling in dopaminergic neurotransmitters. [4].Decreased levels of signaling in dopaminergic neurotransmitters seem to be the underlying factor in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Where to Find Essential Fatty Acids

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and linoleic acid are the only essential fatty acids humans need in their diet. [7].  ALA can be converted to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) which eventually converts to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). [7].  ALA can be found in plant sources such as flax oil, soybean, and canola oils. [7]. The converted forms EPA and DHA can be found in fish, fish oils, krill oils, and synthesized by microalgae. [7]. 

Supplement Recommendation

There is no recommended daily allowance (RDA). [7].  However, there are adequate intakes (AI's) of 1.6g and 1.1g per day for men and women over the age of 18 years old. [7].Different doses and types of essential fatty acids have been studied; and there have been contradictions about the recommended amounts and types of essential fatty acids that should be used and to which combinations are most effective.

One study prescribed 5.4g of DHA and 10.8g of EPA to patients with ADHD and saw improvements. [8]. Another study supplemented 2.2g DHA and 4.1g of EPA and also saw improvements. [3]. Other studies administered much lower amounts 400mg (0.4g) of ALA [5], as well as 174mg DHA and 558mg EPA [1], and saw improvements. Most studies used essential fatty acids in combination.  [2]. Since the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is low in humans, researchers recommend to take around 1.5g  of DHA and 3g of EPA for those who have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.


  1. Barragán, E., Breuer, D., & Döpfner, M. (2017 ). Efficacy and safety of omega-3/6 fatty acids, methylphenidate, and a combined treatment in children with ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 21(5):433-441. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24464327/ (Links to an external site.)

  2. Gaby, A. (2017). Nutritional Medicine (2nd ed.).  Concord, NH: Fritz Perlberg Publishing.

  3. Germano, M., Meleleo, D., Montorfano, G., Adorni, L., Negroni, M., Berra, B., & Rizzo, A. M. (2007). Plasma, red blood cells phospholipids and clinical evaluation after long chain omega-3 supplementation in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Nutritional Neuroscience, 10(1–2):1–9. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17539477 (Links to an external site.)

  4. Healy-Stoffel, M., & Levant, B. (2018). N-3 (Omega-3) Fatty Acids: Effects on Brain Dopamine Systems and Potential Role in the Etiology and Treatment of Neuropsychiatric Disorders. CNS & neurological disorders drug targets, 17(3), 216–232. doi:10.2174/1871527317666180412153612. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6563911/ (Links to an external site.)

  5. Joshi, K., Lad, S., Kale, M., Patwardhan, B., Mahadik, S. P., Patni, B., Chaudhary, A. et al. (2006). Supplementation with flax oil and vitamin C improves the outcome of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and essential fatty acids, 74(1):17–21. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16314082 (Links to an external site.)

  6. Mahan, L. K. & Raymond, J. L. (2014). Krause's food and the nutrition care process (14th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier. 

  7. Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. (2019). National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/ (Links to an external site.)

  8. Sorgi, P. J., Hallowell, E. M., Hutchins, H. L., & Sears, B. (2007). Effects of an open-label pilot study with high-dose EPA/DHA concentrates on plasma phospholipids and behavior in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Nutrition journal, 6, 16. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-6-16. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1971271/

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