For many years, fat has been singled out as the bad guy of diet and nutrition. And while we’ve been trying to reduce our fat intake, the problem of childhood and adult obesity had been rising. Now a number of recent studies have suggested that omega fats can reduce symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). What’s the story? Is fat good for us or bad? The confusion stems from the fact that all fats are not created equal.
What Is Dietary Fat?
Fats are a type of lipid; large organic molecules that have 9 calories per gram (compared to protein and carbohydrates 4 calories per gram).
Fats fall into two general categories:
The label ‘saturated’ refers to the fact that saturated fats have fatty-acid tails that are very straight and tightly packed together, resulting in a fat that is solid at room temperature. Most saturated fats are animal-based, such as butter and lard. These unhealthy fats should be consumed in very small amounts, if at all.
Unsaturated are healthier fats. They have kinks in their fatty acid tails, which prevents the tails from packing in close to each other. This spacing results in fats that are liquid at room temperature. Most unsaturated fats, such as canola and olive oil, are vegetable in origin. Fish oil is also unsaturated.
What Are Omega Fats
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, are good, unsaturated fats, vital to many aspects of health including proper brain development and function. Omegas are essential fatty acids, meaning that the human body can’t make them, but can turn one kind of omega fat into another.
Omega Fat Supplements and Adult ADHD
Several studies over the past few years have shown a relationship between omega fats and ADHD symptoms. In 1994, research out of Purdue University found that boys diagnosed with ADHD had lower levels of the omega-3 essential fatty acid that did boys who did not have ADHD. Additional studies have revealed mounting evidence that omega-3 imbalances or deficiencies may be associated ADHD, but scientists aren’t really sure specifically what the relationship is.
In the March 2008 issue of the German psychotherapy journal Z Kinder Jugendpsychiatr Psychother, a preliminary study suggested that dietary supplementation with a combination of omega-3 and omega-6 – fatty acids can reduce the symptoms of ADHD significantly. But the researchers cautioned that considerable research still needs to be done to identify ideal therapeutic combinations and dosages, and to find ways of assessing which ADHD populations would benefit from omega-3 supplements.
In another study, appearing in the April issue of the Journal of Attention Disorders, children and adolescents with ADHD were supplemented omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. Although the majority did not respond to omega treatment, a subgroup of 26% did a reduction in ADHD symptoms after 3 months. After 6 months of supplements, 47% showed improvement.
The Bottom Line on Omega Fatty Acids
Current research on the effect of omega fat supplementation on ADHD symptoms, although promising, is confusing at best. But that doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that everyone needs omega fats in their diets in order to be healthy, and most people do not consume the minimum amount necessary for good health. So anyone can benefit from eating more foods rich in omega fats and probably taking supplements as well.
What Foods Contain Omega Fats?
There are many omega supplements available, but it is also a good idea to increase the amount of these fats in the diet. Here’s what you should be eating more of.
Omega-3s come primarily from wild foods, the kind of grub that our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate. Don’t worry; you don’t need to start eating twigs. It is easy to increase your intake of omega-3s by eating more fish and omega-enriched eggs, as well as flax seed, walnuts and Brazil nuts.
Although this is a healthy fat, the amount of omega-6 generally needs to be reduced in diet of most Americans. The ideal ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids is 2:1 or 4:1 (Most American consume a ratio of 20:1). Many oils and nuts are rich in omega-6 fatty acids including: sunflower, corn, soy, safflower, walnut, grape seed and sesame, as well as other nuts and seeds.
Alexandra J. Richardson / Paul Montgomery (2005) The Oxford-Durham Study: A Randomized, Controlled Trial of Dietary Supplementation With Fatty Acids in Children With Developmental Coordination Disorder. Pediatrics, 115 (5).
Frölich J, Döpfner M (2008). The treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders with polyunsaturated fatty acids – an effective treatment alternative? Z Kinder Jugendpsychiatr Psychother 36 (2).
Johnson M, Ostlund S, Fransson G, Kadesjö B, Gillberg C. (2008) Omega-3/Omega-6 Fatty Acids for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial in Children and Adolescents. J Atten Disord. PMID 18448859.