How Do Omega-3 Supplements Benefit Kids With ADHD?
Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) are essential fats because unlike other types of fat, our body can’t make omega-3s from scratch. We must include them in our diets. Omega-3s are used in cell membranes throughout our bodies. They are a critical component needed for cell receptors to function.
So what are the benefits of Omega 3 supplements and why does this become so important for kids with ADHD?
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Omega 3 Supplements for ADHD – The Link Explained
I hope I don’t lose you over the next few paragraphs. Bear with me while I do my best to explain this as simply as I can.
The Link Is Dopamine
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in our brain that helps carry messages from one neuron to the next. Basically, it is used to deliver messages from one part of our brain to another, and to other parts of our bodies through our nervous syste.
Dopamine also helps us control our emotions and helps us to feel motivated to work towards a reward because it is used to activate our reward pathway. Without adequate omega-3 fatty acids in our diet, our bodies cannot produce enough dopamine.
ADHD is linked to dopamine deficiency. (Source)
How ADHD Medication Works
Depending on the actual medication, stimulants work in one of two ways. They either increase dopamine production in the brain, or they block the reuptake of dopamine. Stimulants that work as d
I’m trying to keep this as simple as possible without going into the science behind this so it is easily understood. If you’d like to read in-depth about how stimulants work you can visit the NIH website here.
So the goal of ADHD medications is to increase dopamine levels in the brain, thus improving concentration and reducing the negative symptoms associated with ADHD.
However, it’s critical that your child’s body is not deficient of omega-3 so their body can actually produce adequate levels of dopamine in the first plac.
The AAP published an article in their journal, Pediatrics, after conducting a double-blind study in which 40% of parents noted some improvement in symptoms, while 15% noticed a significant improvement. Omega 3 supplements can work alongside ADHD medication nicely, or on its own, if you do not medicate. (Always consult a doctor before making medication changes)
But what this all means is, even if your child is on medication for ADHD, if they have an omega-3 deficiency, the medication may not work to its full potential because their body needs these essential fats to produce dopamine in the first place.
Thinking about the brain, imagine dopamine as little messengers – carrying messages across your brain, from one cell to the next, then delivering them to where they need to go. For every single thought, feeling, or action you complete – neurotransmitters, including dopamine, fire a signal through connected neurons in your brain to form a functional circuit. This is how your brain is wired.
As your brain processes everything that is happening around you, it is creating associations and forming circuits. So, imagine if you bring your toddler a chocolate bar when you get home from work. Don’t be surprised if she asks for a chocolate bar again the next time you come home from work. Why? Her brain created an association between you returning from work and her getting chocolate, so a ping was sent through that circuit again, reminding her of the
This is also why a certain smell, song, or location may suddenly remind you of a cherished memory, traumatic experience, or something that happened in your childhood. Neuropsychologist, Donald Hebb, explains this phenomenon with the phrase “Neurons that fire together, wire together”.
Now, back to dopamine deficiency – if your brain doesn’t have enough dopamine to work efficiently when that “ping” happens to shoot a message across the circuit … it loses momentum. It might take too long to reach the end of the circuit, or never make it there at all.
The signs of dopamine deficiency include:
- Poor concentration
- Memory Loss
- Mood swings
- Inability to focus
- Lack of motivation/Not responding to rewards
- Poor self-awareness
Considering these signs are all common symptoms of ADHD as well, it’s clear why low dopamine would exasperate ADHD symptoms.
My Personal Experience
My son has a lot of trouble staying motivated and at times it seems like even his favorite activities and rewards are meaningless to him. During school, this issue came up time and time again with staff while working on his IPP.
It wouldn’t matter what reward he had the chance to work for, sometimes he just did not care. I’m sure others can relate to this. Dopamine is the chemical that makes us feel motivated.
My son’s executive functions are quite a bit behind his peers, we found out from testing he’s in,
There are connections between all of these things. Everything needs to be in sync in order to have a well-regulated, focused child that’s ready to learn.
He currently takes
Foods With High Omega-3 Content
Many kids are picky eaters and any parent with an ASD child knows how hard it can be to make their child eat a well-balanced diet. Trust me, my child is no exception and his diet isn’t very varied. He tends to prefer processed foods and carbohydrates.
Some foods with high omega-3 include:
- Fatty Fish
- Chia seeds
My son won’t actually eat any of that. So I’m almost certain that he doesn’t get enough DHA or EPA from his regular diet (I’m sure I don’t either, which is why I started taking a supplement, too. Did you know an omega-3 supplement can help you have more energy, and lessen that groggy feeling you have when you wake up in the morning?)
The only way I have been able to hide omega-3 in my son’s food is with ground flaxseed. I only purchase Bob’s Redmill brand, which is available on Amazon and in most grocery stores in their health food aisle. It’s flavorless and odorless. The texture is pretty undetectable in most foods. I throw a tablespoon into his food as I’m cooking and he can’t tell the difference (my husband can’t either and he won’t eat anything with the word flax on it). It really doesn’t change the flavor, trust me. My son would notice a pinch of extra garlic in his chili, there’s normally no fooling his taste buds.
Flaxseeds are great, a bag lasts forever and it’s good for a month if you keep it refrigerated. I keep mine in a container in the fridge once it’s opened. They’re also super high in fiber and great if your child deals with constipation.
But, I’ve heard your body doesn’t absorb the omega-3 as well as it does from fish oils. So, flaxseed alone won’t be
Finding The Right Omega 3 Supplements for ADHD
The best way to get enough DHA and EPA into your child’s diet is with an Omega-3 supplement. You need to make sure you find the right supplement.
The average omega-3 to
First of all, don’t use a multivitamin as your source of omega-3. They are great for other vitamins but will contain much less omega-3 compared to a regular omega-3 supplement, so it won’t supply enough of this essential fat.
I recommend a
We first bought some Disney Finding Dory gummies. They had the right ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 and promised a great taste, but my son wouldn’t eat them. They almost had this film or coating over them and the fishy aftertaste. I also tried a store brand version which he didn’t like either.
In the end, I couldn’t find any supplements in my local grocery store or pharmacy that would meet our needs and taste preferences.
The supplement that has been the best for us is OLLY The Mega Omega-3 Supplement. I order these on Amazon as well, and a bottle lasts a month. They’re affordable and have a sugar-coating on them, making them taste more like candy. These don’t taste like fish at all.
If you are looking for an oil, AHAlife carries a high quality pure omega-3 liquid for kids called Super Hero by Bare Biology This is a high-quality product containing the most omega-3 on the market. One drop a day is all that’s needed so these drops should last about 9 months.
Foolproof Trick For Getting Your Child to Take Fish Oil
Some kids won’t take the gummies and won’t take the oil. It can be very perplexing trying to figure out how to get this essential fat into your child’s diet. I did some googling on this, and a pretty common suggestion is adding fish oil to peanut butter and mixing it in and using it for peanut butter sandwiches.
My son doesn’t like peanut butter and some children have allergies so I came up with my own foolproof trick to get kids to take their fish oil. — I actually came up with this idea to get my son to take magnesium, but it contains the fish oil, too.
If your child’s diet contains white sugar, white bread, or white rice they probably aren’t getting enough magnesium as it depletes your levels. Some symptoms of magnesium deficiency include restlessness, hyperactivity, meltdowns, impaired social skills, noise sensitivity, teeth grinding, irritability, and aggressiveness.
So, here it is:
- 1. Omega-3 Supplement
- 2. Flavored magnesium citrate powder
- 3. Water
- Individually measure out servings of fish oil as indicated on the label and pour them into each of the ice pop molds. This is important to ensure the correct amount is in each ice pop.
- In a cup, mix together magnesium citrate powder and water, as directed. Choose your preferred flavor and ensure it is complimentary with the fish oil.
- Wait 2-3 minutes for the fizzing in the magnesium mixture to stop.
- Pour the magnesium mixture into each of the ice pop molds.
- Thoroughly stir omega-3 oil and magnesium mixture together in each mold.
- Place covers on mold and place in the freezer for 2-3 hours, or until frozen completely.
The omega-3 oil tends to separate and may gather at the top of the ice pops, even as you're stirring. Watch for small "bubbles" of the oil in the ice pop mold it see if it's mixed. There will probably still seem like a lot more oil is at the top of the mold. In my experience, this hasn't changed the flavor of the ice pop at all. The texture of the omega-3 remains undetected and your child gets the full serving of omega-3 if they use the sipper straw for any drips.