“A deficiency of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs) may play a role in the pathogenesis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),” wrote Jane Pei-Chen Chang, M.D., of King’s College London and colleagues.
Chang and colleagues conducted a 12-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial comparing the effects of high-dose EPA with placebo in youth aged 6 to 18 years with ADHD. All participants were either drug naïve or had not been on medications for the previous six months and had been referred to the Department of Psychiatry at China Medical University Hospital in Taiwan.
The participants were randomized into the EPA (1.2 grams per day) group or placebo (1.2 grams per day of soybean oil) group. The researchers assessed the youth on the following four items of the Continuous Performance Test at the beginning and end of the trial: focused attention, impulsivity, sustained attention, and vigilance. They also took blood samples from the youth at the start of the trial and again at week 12 to determine baseline EPA levels and changes to these levels over the course of the study. Of the 103 youth who were randomized to the two groups, 92 completed the 12-week trial.
Youth in the EPA group improved more than those in the placebo group in focused attention, while those who received the placebo showed more improvement in the impulsivity measure. The researchers noted there were no other significant differences between the groups on the cognitive measures examined as part of the Continuous Performance Test.
Additional analysis revealed that youth with low endogenous EPA levels showed further improvement in an additional measure of attention and vigilance compared with those in the placebo group.
“[O]ur study shows some benefits of EPA monotherapy on cognitive symptoms of ADHD,” the authors concluded. However, they advised against EPA supplementation in youth who have high endogenous levels of EPA.
For related news, see the American Journal of Psychiatry article “Nonpharmacological Interventions for ADHD: Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses of Randomized Controlled Trials of Dietary and Psychological Treatments.”