Updated 13 August 2015

Why fats are important for ADHD sufferers

There is strong evidence to suggest that omega 3 fatty acids could play a key role in alleviating ADHD


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, usually referred to as ADHD, is a mild psychiatric disorder that affects an individual’s attention and impulse control. Depending on the diagnostic criteria used, ADHD is believed to affect between 1 and 7% of the child population.

The condition varies so substantially in terms of its presentation, severity and treatability, that many cases, perhaps even the majoriy, go undiagnosed. The impulsive, unfocussed behaviour is often just seen as ill discipline or “part of growing up.”

Given that the condition can persist for many years, there is a need to consider intervention options that are suitable for chronic treatment plans. This has led many researchers and medical practitioners to look beyond traditional medication.

Read: Causes of ADHD

While medication has been shown to be effective in curbing the hyperactivity of afflicted children and helping them focus on tasks like schoolwork, it isn’t without its drawbacks. For starters, if taken constantly the medication can prove very costly for the parents of ADHD sufferers. Additionally, there are the usual issues associated with taking chronic medication such as renal toxicity and protecting the gastro-intestinal tract.

One particularly promising area for long-term treatment is a focus on the dietary intake of children with the condition.

Specifically, boosting the intake of omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to be very effective in suppressing the symptoms of ADHD by working on the underlying causes of the disease. Ensuring that a child has adequate amounts of omega 3 helps to maintain an optimal environment for neural functioning, boosting attention and focus.

Read: ADHD medication FAQ's

These poly-unsaturated fats are a key part of normal metabolism. Metabolism is one of your body’s most essential processes and instability here can have knock-on events throughout the body.

DHA, one form of the oil, are intrinsic in the construction of synapses, the joints at which neurons connect. Without enough DHA, these neurons grow more slowly and more irregularly, increasing the chance of developmental problems arising.

One of the main problems lies in the fact that omega-3 cannot be synthesised by the human body, it is entirely reliant on diet and supplements for its requirements.

The compound is found in a range of foods including:

Salmon, oysters, tuna, sardines, flaxseed, oatmeal, spinach, kale, canola oil.

In addition, a number of other foods are commonly enriched with omega-3 oils. Typically you’ll find that milk, eggs, fruit juices and bread have had omega-3 oils added to them.

However, it can be difficult to consistently get enough of these essential oils from dietary sources. The easiest way to correct an omega-3 deficiency and maintain a healthy level of them going forward is via supplementation. The compound is easily available in both tablet and liquid form which makes it easy to fit into your existing routine.

Outside of ADHD prevention, omega-3 oils have a wide range of other beneficial side-effects. For one, there is reasonable evidence to suggest that the compounds possess anti-inflammatory properties which could potentially form part of a dietary solution for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis. 

Read more:
Parenting a child with ADHD 
Taking control of ADHD
Talk to our ADHD expert 

Sources: International Review of Psychiatry/Mercola/Diet/


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

ADHD Expert

Dr. Shabeer Ahmed Jeeva is a specialist psychiatrist who has been practicing child and adult psychiatry for 30 years. He has vast experience in treating ADHD, and is also an ADHD patient himself. Dr. Jeeva trained and practiced in Canada as a child and adult psychiatrist and had lived there for 25 years. He had attended medical school at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland (1970-1976). His professional experience and accreditation includes: Psychiatric residency at the University of Ottawa (Canada), Child Psychiatry fellowship at the University of Ottawa (Canada), Diploma in Psychiatry at the University of Ottawa (Canada), and Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in Canada. Visit his website at:

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules