Some researchers believe supplementing with omega-3, such as fish oil, could help improve attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms. However, the evidence for this theory remains inconclusive.

ADHD is a neurological condition that can cause periods of hyperactivity and problems with attention.

Fish oil is a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids. These substances are a form of fat that the human body cannot make on its own. Omega-3 fatty acids can contribute positively to a person’s health because they play a vital role within human cell membranes.

Some researchers also believe that omega-3 fatty acids may improve certain ADHD symptoms. However, more research is necessary to confirm this theory.

This article looks at the latest scientific consensus, focusing on the possible effects of fish oil on ADHD and how to take this supplement.

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According to an older 2015 study, taking omega-3 supplements could reduce symptoms of inattention. The study noted this effect in a group of boys, half of which had ADHD.

After omega-3 supplementation, attention improved in those with ADHD and those without the condition. A placebo did not have the same effect.

Despite results like these, researchers remain uncertain about the benefits of omega-3 supplementation for ADHD.

Their research includes a 2019 review that found little evidence such supplementation can improve ADHD in children and adolescents.

A 2021 review suggests omega-3 supplements could have minor beneficial effects on ADHD. However, the authors caution that the scientific literature on this topic has given conflicting results.

More research on omega-3 supplements for ADHD is necessary to confirm a link.

Some researchers think that fish oil may help with ADHD symptoms because it contains omega-3 fatty acids. However, researchers are unsure why omega-3 supplementation could improve ADHD symptoms.

According to the 2015 study mentioned above, omega-3 may play a role in the elasticity of cell membranes and the formation of myelin, a layer that protects the neurons. Omega-3 could therefore influence the transmission of signals in the brain.

Animal studies discussed in the 2015 study suggest that omega-3 deficiencies can have the following effects:

  • smaller neurons
  • hyperactive and impulsive behavior
  • reduced neurotransmission involving dopamine and serotonin, particularly in the frontal cortex

The study also highlights research on humans that suggests ADHD correlates with dopamine dysfunction and difficulties in cognitive control.

There is no standard amount of fish oil that people with ADHD should take. Studies tend to focus on omega-3 supplements specifically rather than fish oil.

A person may speak with their doctor about fish oil and ADHD to determine the correct dose. Their doctor may also wish to monitor them to determine whether the supplement helps with symptoms.

If someone with ADHD wishes to see an improvement in their symptoms, they could also consider medication. According to a 2023 review, stimulant treatment is effective in treating 70% of cases of ADHD.

However, such medication has potential side effects, including the risk of dependency, changes in appetite, and changes in blood pressure.

Learn about comparisons between different types of ADHD medication.

How long does it take for omega-3 to help people with ADHD?

Researchers do not have any firm indication of how long omega-3 might take to affect ADHD positively.

The 2015 study mentioned above found an improvement in attention after 16 weeks of omega-3 supplementation. However, it is important to note that this was a small study of 39 participants.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there is no evidence that omega-3 supplements are unsafe for adults and children with ADHD.

However, the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology suggests that people with fish allergies should speak with a healthcare professional before taking fish oil supplements.

If an adult thinks that they, or a child in their care, have symptoms of ADHD, they should seek a doctor’s advice.

Symptoms of ADHD include:

  • procrastination
  • organizational problems
  • being easily distracted
  • difficulty following instruction
  • fidgeting
  • impulsiveness

A doctor can discuss potential treatment options for an individual experiencing these symptoms.

Visit our ADHD hub for more information and in-depth research on the signs, symptoms, and management of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

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Fish oil is a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids. Some researchers believe it could have potential benefits for individuals with ADHD. However, others remain uncertain.

Recent literature reviews find limited evidence supporting potential benefits. Results across different studies are inconsistent.

Further research is necessary to determine the efficacy of omega-3 supplements for ADHD. There is no standardized amount of fish oil recommended for individuals with ADHD.