5.4 children worldwide have a current diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and the number of children diagnosed with the neurodevelopmental disorder is on the rise.

The researchers from King’s College London and China Medical University in Taichung, Taiwan have identified that omega-3 fish oil supplements could help improve attention among kids with ADHD, particularly those with inadequate levels of omega-3 in their blood.

The researchers opined that their findings have paved the way towards a personalized medicine approach to psychiatry by demonstrating that omega-3 fish oil supplements are effective only for some children with the condition.

Previous research by the same group has found that children with omega-3 deficiency are more likely to have severe ADHD.

The current study included 92 children with ADHD in the age group 6-18 who were given high doses of omega-3 fatty acid EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) or a placebo for a period of about 3 months. Their findings suggested that children with the lowest blood levels of EPA showed improvements in focused attention and vigilance after taking the fish oil supplements. They also found that kids with pre-existing blood levels of EPA had negative effects on impulsivity symptoms upon taken omega-3 supplements.

The research team cautioned that parents should consult with medical experts before opting to give omega-3 supplements to their children.

Omega-3 deficiency could be identified by the following symptoms:

  • Dry skin
  • Eczema
  • Dry eyes
  • Scaly skin

And the diagnosis can be confirmed via a blood test.

“Our results suggest that fish oil supplements are at least as effective for attention as conventional pharmacological treatments among those children with ADHD who have an omega-3 deficiency. On the other hand, it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and parents should always consult with their children's psychiatrists since our study suggests there could be negative effects for some children,” said the study’s co-lead author Dr. Jane Chang.

The study was conducted in Taiwan where diets usually include a lot of fish compared to the diets of European and North American individuals. Most studies of children with ADHD previously carried out in western countries have revealed average blood-levels of EPA that are lower than in this study.