Children Who Get DHA Don't Get ADHD

This is article is based on the personal experiences of complementary health expert Robert Rister. In this article he suggests a dietary reason children in Japan tend to be extraordinarly well behaved.

If you have ever spent time in Japan, chances are you have noticed how well behaved the children are. One morning in Osaka I stopped at an intersection while a single kindergarten teacher led a queue of 4- or 5-year-old children across the street. One teacher, 64 children holding hands, no other parents or teachers.

That afternoon at the aquarium I saw hundreds of older children with three teachers, all taking in the sights of sharks and manta rays, having fun, but not acting out. And then I saw the three teachers put about 250 children on the subway.

While there are no doubt cultural factors that lead to attentive, focused, manageable children, one factor probably is diet. The Japanese diet is especially high in the "brain food" docosahexaenoic acid, also known as DHA.

If you go to a buffet in Japan, you might see children lining up to get every possible color of seaweed plus a little fish and rice (and, at the breakfast buffet, completely ignoring the Cap'n Crunch).

The near absence of ADHD makes you wonder if the fish, rice, seaweed, or all three, might be the explanation. Dr. Barry Sears, famous as the originator of the Zone Diet, has been doing clinical research in the USA to find out.

DHA for Kids with ADHD

At the Sears Inflammation Research Institute, nine ADHD-afflicted children aged 8 to 16 years were given 16.2 grams of a mixture of DHA and EPA (5.4 grams of DHA with 10.8 grams of EPA) every day for eight weeks. As bloodstream levels of the fatty acids built up, some of the children's dosages were cut back.

At the end of the eight weeks, all of the children were examined by a psychiatrist. The doctor found:

  • Lower levels of oppositional-defiance disorder,
  • Lower levels of inattention,
  • Lower levels of conduct disorder, and
  • Less hyperactivity.

Parents of four of the children who were given DHA and EPA reported that their children slept better after supplementation.

It's not hard to find ways to get these amounts of DHA and EPA into your child's diet. That's the equivalent of about 25 capsules of a high-quality fish oil such as Xtend Life, or about 60 capsules of the house brand at Walmart, or three tablespoons of Udo's Oil.

How can you tell if your child with ADHD might benefit? Children who are deficient in DHA often display:

  • Dry, flaky skin.
  • Patches of dry skin.
  • Brittle fingernails.
  • Frequent urination, and
  • Frequent thirst.

If your child does not have these symptoms, DHA may still help. But if your child has these symptoms, DHA is highly likely to help.

Don't give your child so much fish oil, flaxseed oil, or microalgae that he or she becomes burpy, gaseous, or flatulent. About 30 grams a day is an absolute maximum, and many children will reject more than amount even without digestive symptoms. But if you keep supplementing every day, there may be significant changes in behavior in about two months.

  • Sorgi PJ, Hallowell EM, Hutchins HL, Sears B. Effects of an open-label pilot study with high-dose EPA/DHA concentrates on plasma phospholipids and behavior in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Nutr J. 2007 Jul 13;6:16.
Related Articles
  • EPA/DHA Ratio in Fish Oil -- EPA/DHA Ratio in Fish Oil - What You Need to Know to Choose the Omega-3 Supplement That is Right for You
  • DHA and Pregnancy -- DHA and Pregnancy - What Every Mother to Be Needs to Know About DHA
  • Dha Foods -- DHA-Rich Foods - What You Don't Eat Can Be As Important as What You Do
  • Epa and Dha -- Is Taking Fish Oil the Best Way of Gettting Your EPA and DHA? No, But It May Be Easier to Use Fish Oil than Flaxseed Oil