A Genetic Link Between ADHD and Fatty Acid Deficiency?

Several studies have found that children and adults with ADHD have low blood levels of omega 3 fatty acids compared to “normal” populations – despite no differences in their diets. As it turns out, omega 3 adequacy isn’t only about how much we take in; some people are less able to manufacture DHA and EPA from other fat sources in the diet than others. And, so far, it looks as though people who have this reduced ability may be at increased risk of ADHD.

One research group in Canada found that adults with ADHD more frequently had excessive thirst and skin rashes – both symptoms of omega 3 fatty acid deficiency. They compared the levels of omega 3 fats in the blood and red blood cells of 35 individuals with ADHD to those of 112 “normal” control subjects, and found a significant difference. Let me point out that no significant differences were found between the diets of the two groups.

Why is this? And what are the implications for people who are trying to find non drug methods for reducing inattentiveness, difficulty focusing, and hyperactivity? Another study, this one reported in Biological Psychiatry, gives an intriguing clue: it turns out that people with ADHD have a different form of a gene that codes for desaturase enzymes. Desaturase enzymes are the track operators on the figurative train track network of fatty acid transformation. These enzymes help dictate the way fats are processed at the cellular level. As it appears, individuals with ADHD may have desaturase activity that is much less efficient at producing the important long chain omega 3s, DHA and EPA.

The good news is that you can make up for this reduced ability to produce DHA and EPA by ingesting them in their complete form, circumventing any need to form them from other fats. Yet another study found that supplementation of these omega 3s could create, in the bodies of subjects with ADHD and low omega 3 levels, an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio comparable to that of the Japanese population – about 1.7. More research is needed to see whether this has a therapeutic effect, but based on the current body of research on the subject, it’s an easy guess that it will. I promise to keep you posted!



Antalis CJ, Stevens LJ, Campbell M, et al. Omega 3 fatty acid status in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2006 Oct Nov;75(45):299 308.

Brookes KJ, Chen W, Xu W, et al. Association of fatty acid desaturase genes with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Biol Psychiatry 2006 Nov 15;60(10):1053 61.

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