Food and Behaviour Research

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A lack of essential fatty acids as a possible cause of hyperactivity in children

Colquhoun, I. and Bunday, S. (1981) Medical Hypotheses 7(5) 673-679 

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here


The Hyperactive Children's Support Group (HCSG) in an organisation with over 70 branches in Britain devoted to helping such children and their families. We have carried out a detailed survey of the characteristics of many of our children and their families and have studied the literature in detail.

We have come to the conclusion that many of these children have a deficiency of essential fatty acids (EFAs) either because they cannot metabolise linoleic acid normally, or because they cannot absorb EFAs normally from the gut, or because their EFA requirements are higher than normal. The main pieces of evidence are: 1. Most of the food constituents which cause trouble in these children are weak inhibitors of the conversion of EFAs to prostaglandins (PGs). 2. Boys are much more commonly effected than girls and males are known to have much higher requirements for EFAs than females. 3. A high proportion of our children have abnormal thirst and thirst is one of the cardinal signs of EFA deficiency. 4. Many of our children have eczema, allergies and asthma which some reports suggest can be alleviated by EFAs. 5. Many of our children are deficient in zinc which is required for conversion of EFAs to PGs. 6. Some of of our children are badly affected by wheat and milk which are known to give rise to exorphins in the gut which can block conversion of EFAs to PGE1.

A preliminary study of EFA supplementation in a number of our children has given promising results. We hope that others with better facilities will be encouraged to test out this hypothesis.


These authors were the first to propose that fatty acid deficiency may be a factor in ADHD, linking their own clinical observations to existing knowledge of the potential effects of fatty acids on both physical health and behaviour.

Their hypotheses stimulated both experimental studies and treatment trials which have generally supported this theory, although there is clearly substantial variability within ADHD / hyperactivity as currently defined, and many other possible contributory factors.

For a subsequent review of evidence linking ADHD with fatty acid abnormalities, see

For practical dietary advice from one of the leading researchers in this area, see

The UK Hyperactive Children's Support Group continues to provide information and support on the dietary management of ADHD and related conditions. Their website can be accessed via our Links page.