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Fish Oil Helps to Improve ADHD But There's a Catch...

Updated: Jun 4, 2023

Fish oil capsules on a yellow background, natural medicine, supplements, naturopathic medicine
Photo by Eugenia Kozyr for Unsplash

If you have a child who suffers from ADHD/ADD*, or if you yourself suffer from the disorder, then you know how stressful it can be.

The endless need to fidget, the inability to concentrate, the forgetfulness, the disorganization and inability to prioritize tasks, it goes on and on without any real sense of rest or relief in sight.

Then with the diagnosis comes the medication. At first it gives relief but then it doesn't seem to work wonders the way it used to. In fact, for some it works great but for others ( about 20-40% of those diagnosed with ADHD/ADD) there's the side effects: loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, headaches, stomach aches, irritability, etc.

It can feel like an endless cycle of futility and frustration just to get common everyday tasks done let alone getting and important and crucial work done.

With so much frustration, what is a person diagnosed with ADHD/ADD to do?

Enter fish oil!

Fish oil in the form of omega-3 fatty acids has been studied extensively [1] when it comes to many different diseases and disorders with mostly positive results.

The same seems to be the case with ADHD/ADD but often with mixed results.

For example, a 2014 study[2] showed only mild benefit with fish oil while a 2017 meta-analysis [3], a study that showed there was improvement in ADHD symptoms using a combination of both DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids.

While there was an improvement in inattentiveness, fish oil alone did not improve hyperactivity.

What should we make of these results? Does this mean that fish oil isn't really all that effective for individuals that have ADHD/ADD?

Not at all!

What many of the previous studies focused on was a combination of DHA and EPA with more of a focus on DHA. DHA, docosahexaenoic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid that is essential for brain function, growth, and development in infants while being equally important for normal brain function and maintenance in adults [4].

So naturally, many researchers and clinicians felt that focusing on DHA would be a better approach than EPA especially since EPA has been studied more for cardiovascular health.

But, surprisingly, DHA wasn't found to be very beneficial in improving ADHD/ADD symptoms. EPA was. EPA, eicosapentanoic acid, is an omega-3 fatty acid that has been studied extensively for its cardiovascular benefits.

EPA has been used for a wide variety of heart issues from coronary artery disease to reducing hs-CRP an indication of inflammation that acts as a predictor of heart attack risk[5].

But studies have shown that EPA is also beneficial to reduce the symptoms of those suffering from ADHD/ADD, especially high dose EPA. In fact, doses upwards of 1200mg/day have been shown to improve the symptoms of ADHD/ADD [6].

But these benefits were only seen in children who were found to have low omega-3 and EPA levels so testing with your primary care provider is recommended [7].

Some of the symptoms of low omega-3 levels include: dry skin and hair, brittle nails, and small bumps on the skin.

If you or a loved one is suffering from ADHD/ADD, talk to your health care provider about using EPA to improve your symptoms.

*The author uses the term ADHD/ADD because there are many cases in which the person diagnosed does not have the hyperactive component of ADHD while still displaying symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder.


  1. Shahidi F, Ambigaipalan P. Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Their Health Benefits. Annu Rev Food Sci Technol. 2018;9:345-381. doi:10.1146/annurev-food-111317-095850

  2. Bloch MH, Mulqueen J. Nutritional supplements for the treatment of ADHD. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2014;23(4):883-897. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2014.05.002

  3. Agostoni C, Nobile M, Ciappolino V, et al. The Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Developmental Psychopathology: A Systematic Review on Early Psychosis, Autism, and ADHD. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(12):2608. Published 2017 Dec 4. doi:10.3390/ijms18122608

  4. Horrocks LA, Yeo YK. Health benefits of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Pharmacol Res. 1999;40(3):211-225. doi:10.1006/phrs.1999.0495

  5. Swanson D, Block R, Mousa SA. Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA: health benefits throughout life. Adv Nutr. 2012;3(1):1-7. doi:10.3945/an.111.000893

  6. Chang JP, Su KP, Mondelli V, et al. High-dose eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) improves attention and vigilance in children and adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and low endogenous EPA levels. Transl Psychiatry. 2019;9(1):303. Published 2019 Nov 20. doi:10.1038/s41398-019-0633-0

  7. Chang JP, Su KP. Nutritional Neuroscience as Mainstream of Psychiatry: The Evidence- Based Treatment Guidelines for Using Omega-3 Fatty Acids as a New Treatment for Psychiatric Disorders in Children and Adolescents. Clin Psychopharmacol Neurosci. 2020;18(4):469-483. doi:10.9758/cpn.2020.18.4.469

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