Articles by Natural Health Author Barbara Minton

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Treat ADHD with Fish Oil

by Barbara Minton
See all TBYIL articles by Barbara Minton

(The Best Years in Life) Attention deficit disorder, also known as ADHD, is a recently conceived disease that now describes children who previously were referred to simply as problem kids. Children with ADHD are unable to concentrate for long periods of time on tasks that do not interest them, and they have great difficulty dealing with the demands of traditional schools that require them to sit in a desk for seven or more hours a day doing tasks that require books, paper and pencil.  Instead of creating a curriculum and environment that can meet the needs of all children, schools have joined with the pharmaceutical industry to medicate children who are unable to conform to this mind numbing experience.

It is currently estimated that 8 percent of children in the U.S. have some form of ADHD and most of them are boys. However, in some school districts the incidence runs above 40 percent. Symptoms include hyperactivity, impulsiveness, inattention, and disruptive behavior. ADHD kids are the ones who make the job of being a teacher in a traditional school extremely difficult, particularly because principals are critical of teachers who cannot "control" their students.

The pressure on teachers to "do something" about ADHD children is intense. Getting them medicated is a quick and easy way to take some of this pressure off. This is why teachers are strong supporters of the ADHD disease label and the drugs that go with it.

Those drugs are primarily stimulants that have amphetamine-like actions in the body. Pediatric neurologist Dr. Fred Baughman refers to Ritalin, the most popular of the drugs, as "every bit as addictive as cocaine" in his co-authored book The ADHD Fraud:  How Psychiatry Makes "Patients" Out of Normal Children".  ADHD drugs have unpleasant side effects that include appetite loss, stunted growth, brain shrinkage, hallucinations and death.

The Centers for Disease Control says five million children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with ADHD.  The use of amphetamines to treat it has increased 2000 percent since 1991, coinciding with the loud heralding by schools that they are Drug Free Zones. More than 50 percent of prescriptions for the drugs were written by pediatricians.

ADHD does not have to be diagnosed by a specially trained psychiatrist or neurologist. A child's pediatrician can diagnosis him as having the disorder in less than an hour, based on parental or teacher reports. Of course it helps if the school is aligned with the parent in getting him medicated. The diagnosis requires none of the observable physiological manifestations that are required for a diagnosis in all areas of medicine with the exception of psychiatry.

Parents are seldom told of the side effects and have no idea that the drugs they are giving their children, at the urging of the school, are virtually identical to drugs sold on the street. There is usually little in the way of follow-up or monitoring of a child taking ADHD drugs unless a parent complains about the side effects.

How does the medical profession explain the abrupt emergence of this disorder when none existed prior to the 1980s? As long as the medical establishment has full access to the U.S. Department of Education and lobbyists in Congress, they can continue to promote the label and its drugs, and need no explanation. As Dr. Baughman notes, "there are laws on the books that mandate a certain level of diagnosis in the schools and that even pay extra to school districts for every child that is diagnosed." This diagnosis usually results in a placement in special education. Taxpayers end up paying two or three times the amount for children so labeled as they do for those considered "normal." Many parents receive a stipend from Social Security for having their child labeled and placed in special education.


It doesn't have to be this way

About 70 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD carry their problems into adulthood, a clear indication that ADHD drugs do not cure the condition. However, there have been several studies that have found children with ADHD have very low levels of the two main omega 3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, which are found in fatty cold water fish and fish oils. Here are summaries of the research findings:

The biochemical aspects of treating ADHD with omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids were studied in a randomized controlled trial in Australia. The researchers found a substantial reduction in symptoms in children with the inattentive form of ADHD, and in children with ADHD and co-morbid problems.

Scientists at the University of Wales in the UK have reported establishing omega 3 fatty acid levels through cheek cell sampling in a mainstream school aged population, and determining if they related to learning and behavior.  Measures of general classroom attention and behavior were assessed in these children by teachers and parents, and cognitive performance tests were administered. An association between omega 3 levels and teacher and parental reports of behavior was revealed. Higher omega 3 levels were associated with decreased levels of inattention, hyperactivity, emotional and conduct difficulties, and increased levels of appropriate social behavior.

At the Institute of Food Science at Leibniz University of Hanover, Germany, scientists have reported that EPA and DHA are involved in numerous neuronal processes, ranging from membrane fluidity to gene expression regulation.  Deficiencies of these key nutrients have significant effects on brain function during the developmental phase and throughout the rest of life. Neuro-cognitive disorders such as ADHD, dyslexia, and autism spectrum disorders are frequently associated with a lack of these omega 3 fatty acids.

These studies follow on the heels of early research showing the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids as prevention and treatment for ADHD. One of these studies found that fish oil supplements are more effective than Ritalin for kids with ADHD. Researchers at the University of South Australia tested a combination of omega 3 fish oil and evening primrose (an oil high in omega 6) on 132 children with ADHD ranging in ages from seven to 12.

For the first 15 weeks of this study, the children were divided into three groups. One group took the fish oil/primrose combination, the second group took the same combination plus a multivitamin/multimineral supplement and a third group took a placebo. For the second 15 weeks of the study, the children on the placebo got the fish oil/primrose combination plus the multivitamin/mineral supplement as well.

The result was a 40 to 60 percent improvement in behavior for the two groups that consumed the fish oil/primrose combination throughout the study period, and a 30 to 40 percent improvement in the group that had taken it for 15 weeks. Compared with results from studies of Ritalin and Concerta, the drugs most frequently prescribed for ADHD, fish oil was more effective.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have reported that omega 3 fatty acids are highly effective in treating children with ADHD, ADD, and bipolar disorder. In their prospective open study with omega 3 fatty acids they found that manic symptoms can be rapidly reduced in youths with bi-polar disorder through the use of safe and well-tolerated fish oil supplements. They tested for effectiveness and safety of high omega 3 fatty acid supplementation on 20 boys and girls age 6 to 17 with diagnosed bipolar disorder over an eight week period. Half the participants experienced a rapid 30 percent reduction in symptoms with no side effects.

This study shows that every child with ADHD or any mood disorder should be on fish oil supplements, says Dr. John Ratey, author of the bestseller Driven to Distraction and a respected expert in the field.

Another study at the Inflammation Research Foundation involved 3 boys and 6 girls, all of whom had been diagnosed with ADHD. Omega 3 fatty acids were given to these children, and measurements were taken of the level of DHA and EPA in their bodies together with the ratio between EPA and arachidonic acid (an omega 6 fatty acid). The results were impressive. At the end of the 8 week trial, the levels of EPA and DHA found in the children had increased significantly, and there were significant reductions in the symptoms of ADHD in all the children. Their inattention scores fell by almost half, and their hyperactivity score fell by more than half.

Get your kids back on track with omega 3 fatty acids

Why are kids' levels of omega 3 fatty acids so low? Omega 3 fatty acids must be obtained through diet or supplements because the body cannot produce them. This is why they are known as essential fatty acids. Omega 3s are found in fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, and flaxseed and walnut oils. In the past, kids obtained omega 3 from their tuna sandwiches and other fish, but today's parents have stopped feeding it to their children.  Meat from grass fed animals and eggs from free range chickens were once additional excellent sources of omega 3, but most conventional meat and eggs today comes from animals and birds fed grain which does not contain omega 3.

Don't wait for a call from the school before adding high omega 3 fatty fish, meat and eggs back into your children's diet, or using high quality fish oil supplements.  The psychiatric industry does not promote nutrition as a method for preventing or treating ADHD, pretending instead that such diseases are caused by "brain chemistry imbalances" that can only be corrected with patented pharmaceuticals. Most pediatricians have bought into this idea. It is up to parents to take steps to assure that children are never labeled as having ADHD.

See also:

Beat and Treat ADD and ADHD without Drugs

For more information:'s+learning+and+behaviour+and+the+association+with+cheek+cell+polyunsaturated+fatty+acid+levels

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About the author:

Barbara is a school psychologist and the author of Dividend Capture, a book on personal finance. She is a breast cancer survivor using bioidentical hormone therapy, and a passionate advocate of natural health with hundreds of articles on many aspects of health and wellness. She is the editor and publisher of AlignLife's Health Secrets Newsletter.

See other articles by the Barbara Minton here:

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