Food and Behaviour Research

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Essential fatty acid metabolism in boys with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Stevens LJ, Zentall SS, Deck, J.L., Abate, M.L., Watkins, B.A, Lipp, S.R., Burgess, J.R. (1995) Am J Clin Nutr 62(4) 761-8. 

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Abstract:

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the term used to describe children who are inattentive, impulsive, and hyperactive. The cause is unknown and is thought to be multifactorial. Based on the work of others, we hypothesized that some children with ADHD have altered fatty acid metabolism.

The present study found that 53 subjects with ADHD had significantly lower concentrations of key fatty acids in the plasma polar lipids (20:4n-6, 20:5n-3, and 22:6n-3) and in red blood cell total lipids (20:4n-6 and 22:4n-6) than did the 43 control subjects.

Also, a subgroup of 21 subjects with ADHD exhibiting many symptoms of essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiency had significantly lower plasma concentrations of 20:4n-6 and 22:6n-3 than did 32 subjects with ADHD with few EFA-deficiency symptoms.

The data are discussed with respect to cause, but the precise reason for lower fatty acid concentrations in some children with ADHD is not clear.

FAB RESEARCH COMMENT:

This study found boys with ADHD had lower concentrations of both omega-3 and omega-6 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA) in red blood cell membranes than controls.

These findings support the hypothesis that ADHD may involve abnormalities of fatty acid metabolism - first proposed by the UK Hyperactive Children's Support Group based on their observations that many features and symptoms of this condition are consisten with relative deficiencies in these biologically essential fatty acids.  See:


As the researchers note, the reasons for these low blood levels of LC-PUFA are not yet known, and further research is still needed to find out whether dietary supplementation may restore normal levels, and if so, whether this may improve ADHD symptoms.