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Understanding Omega-3 Supplementation

Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids can be considered as an add-on for children already taking ADHD medications, or it can be tried alone without other ADHD medications in mild cases or if parents are hesitant about starting their child on prescription drugs.
When looking for a fish oil or other omega-3 fatty acid supplement, there are a few important things to consider. First of all, omega-3s can be found from both plant sources (flaxseed, algae) and animal sources (fish oil). Both types have been studied in ADHD cases and both have shown benefit. The ratio of docosahexanoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), however, seems to be an important factor.
Check the labels of any supplements you are considering before you buy. Most research has shown supplements must likely contain EPA (at least 100 mg) to get the most benefit. Doses in studies, however, have ranged widely, and more research is needed before any specific requirements can be determined.
Side effects of supplementation are generally mild, but may include stomach upset and/or "fish burps." If these side effects become bothersome, try taking the supplements with food or freezing the capsules. This often cuts down on the unpleasant effects without sacrificing any of the benefits.
You should also check to see that the fish oil has been purified and tested for mercury. Many supplements available have some sort of seal of certification (i.e., "USP Verified"), indicating that the product has been tested; double-checking for this avoids accidental exposure to toxic levels of mercury. Beneficial fatty acids can also be obtained from the diet. The recommended two servings of fatty fish per week provide approximately 250 mg to 500 mg of daily EPA and DHA.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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