Omega-3 and ADHD, Autism and Schizophrenia: Jury Out?

Omega-3 and ADHD Martin Cooper Ipswich via VisualHunt / CC BY
Photo credit: Martin Cooper Ipswich via VisualHunt / CC BY

Thanks to our friends at Food and Behaviour Research for the following story on the subject of Omega-3 and ADHD.

While a lot of our efforts at The Mother and Child Foundation go towards building an awareness of research into the undoubted benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, we also acknowledge research that is less than conclusive.

As FAB Research points out in the following summary, a “jury out” situation says one thing loud and clear – further research is essential!

“A recent systematic review, The Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Developmental Psychopathology, summarised evidence for the effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on ADHD, autism and early-stage psychosis / schizophrenia.

The current evidence indicates some benefit from omega-3 for ‘ADHD-type’ symptoms. For autism and psychosis, findings are more limited and mixed, but include possible reductions in medications needed. The conclusion is that more large-scale trials are still needed, but that further research in these areas is well justified.

While these conditions obviously have their differences, they also show notable overlaps. Considering them together therefore makes sense, as does a possible role for relative deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids in these conditions (see Richardson & Ross 2000, for example).

The authors emphasise that most randomized controlled trials in this area are small (thus lacking ‘statistical power’), short in duration, and vary widely in the actual populations studied, formulations and dosages, etc. This makes it difficult to combine or compare findings in many cases.”

Mental health and Western Diet

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FAB Research also reports on an Australian study linking various adolescent mental health problems with junk foods. The researchers appear to have found the biological pathway for the problem, and pinpoint inflammation as the probable cause.

As FAB points out, previous research using the same Australian general population cohort has already shown that teenagers who reported eating higher quantities of ‘junk food’ performed more poorly on cognitive tests than those whose self-reported diets were healthier.

“Scientific work on the relationship between mental health problems and inflammation is still in its infancy”, says research leader Professor Wendy Oddy, “but this study makes an important contribution to mapping out how what you eat impacts on these relationships.”

Oddy’s paper concludes: “A ‘Western’ dietary pattern associates with an increased risk of mental health problems, including depressive symptoms in adolescents, through biologically plausible pathways of adiposity and inflammation, whereas a ‘healthy’ dietary pattern appears protective in these pathways.”

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