If you have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or ADD (attention deficit disorder without hyperactivity), about 2,000 to 5,000 mg of fish oil a day may help to ease such symptoms as hyperactivity, wandering attention, and a racing mind. While it is not known exactly how fish oil supplements help sufferers of ADHD and ADD, there is strong anecdotal evidence that they do.
The credit for fish oil’s success is given to omega 3 fatty acids, an essential nutrient that is sorely lacking in the modern diet. Wild meats have high concentrations of omega 3. So do many edible wild plants. Domestic meats and vegetables are appallingly low in omega 3, especially if they are factory farmed. Organically grown vegetables and meat from pasture fed animals have somewhat more, but not nearly as much as wild foods.
Most of us rarely or never eat wild plants, and fish is the only commercial meat that is routinely caught in the wild. Fish oil supplements, made from wild caught fish (farm raised fish are not a significant source of omega 3 fatty acids) are an increasingly popular way to get omega 3 into the diet.
In his book (coauthored with John Ratey) “Answers to Distraction,” sequel to “Driven to Distraction,” which was the first book on ADD and ADHD written for the general public, Dr. Edward Hallowell reports resounding success in treating his own ADD symptoms with fish oil. His wife, who also has ADD, chose to take flaxseed oil (also a good omega 3 source) instead, fearing mercury contamination in the fish oil. Her symptoms were noticeably alleviated, too.
Hallowell draws parallels with the old folk remedy of giving a child a spoonful of cod liver oil. A few generations back, in European and Euro-American societies, it was not uncommon for children to be given a spoonful of fish oil when they misbehaved. Liquid fish oil not being very appealing to children, this may have been perceived as punishment. Hallowell says this was originally meant to be helpful, because fish oil calms hyperactive and out of control behavior.
Fish oil is now sold in capsules, making it easier for many people to swallow. It is readily available, over the counter, in drugstores, grocery stores, and health food stores. A perusal of Internet discussion boards on ADD/HD reveals many ADD-ers following Hallowell’s example. Those who cannot or do not eat fish, or who are concerned about fish oil being contaminated with heavy metal pollution, can reap the same benefits by taking vegetarian sources of omega 3 fatty acids, such as flaxseed oil or borage.
It has been speculated, to the point of becoming a full scale rumor, that deficiency in omega 3 fatty acids causes ADD/HD. This is probably not true. ADD/HD is far more than a set of symptoms. It is, overall, a way of perceiving and being in the world that only those who have it can truly understand. Taking omega 3 fatty acids may help to calm hyperactivity, both physical and mental, and increase the ability to focus evenly. However, it does not change one’s basic orientation to the world or way of perceiving things.
Fish oil supplements do not “cure” ADD or ADHD. They can help alleviate the troublesome symptoms. Exactly how or why this works, we do not know. ADD-ers who have benefitted from fish oil only know that it does.
Sources: “Answers to Distraction,” by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey, Random House Publishing Group, 1996
Information about omega 3 fatty acids in wild vs domestic food found in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals,” by Michael Pollan, The Penguin Press, 2006