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Fish oil wins over children with ADHD

Natalie Sinn testing a student

Taking a combination of fish oil and evening primrose oil capsules can help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a study run by the University of South Australia and CSIRO shows.

A PhD student from UniSA’s School of Health Sciences and CSIRO Human Nutrition, Natalie Sinn conducted a study involving children with ADHD-related problems and found that their attention and behaviour improved significantly after taking a combination of fish oil and evening primrose oil capsules containing a high ratio of the omega-3 fatty acid EPA.

“Children in the study were given combined fish/primrose oil capsules or placebo oil capsules. After 15 weeks, parents of children who had been taking the combined oil supplement reported reduced inattention, hyperactivity, restlessness and impulsive behaviour, while these improvements were not reported in the placebo group. After children in the placebo group switched to the combined oil supplement for 15 weeks, they showed similar improvements in attention span and reduced hyperactivity, restlessness and impulsive behaviour, while the original fish/primrose oil group showed even greater improvements after an additional 15 weeks of taking the combined oil supplement. From this research we can see increased benefits in extending the use of the combined oil supplementation,” Sinn said.

The researchers also conducted cognitive assessments, which confirmed the improvements in attention of children, adding further strength to reports by parents of better attention.

In addition to better attention and behaviour, the study showed improvements in the children’s vocabulary. “This might be attributed to enhanced reading ability, which has been found in other studies of children with learning difficulties who take fish oil,” Sinn said. “Alternatively, it might have resulted from improvements in attention.

“Fish oil is believed to work via its effects on brain function. Sixty per cent of the brain is composed of fats, with the most important being polyunsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These must be obtained through diet and can be found in dark leafy vegetables, walnuts, linseeds and oily fish.

“There is now a growing body of research to suggest that some children with a variety of developmental problems including ADHD and dyslexia can benefit from taking omega-3 supplements. With no adverse effects reported in studies using fish oil to date, this might provide a safe, effective treatment for some children who experience problems with attention and behaviour that are typically related to ADHD,” Sinn said.

In recognition of her award-winning research, Natalie Sinn was named as the winner of the People’s Choice prize in the 2005 Fresh Science awards and is one of two early career researchers named in the 2005 awards - a national event held in Science Week. Sinn was among 13 early career scientists selected from research institutes, universities, government research laboratories, the CSIRO and private companies Australia wide.

Sinn’s research is being supervised by Dr Janet Bryan at the University of South Australia and Dr Carlene Wilson at CSIRO Human Nutrition.