I recently blogged about the benefits of omega-3 DHA for children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). On the heels of that study, a Cochrane Review of omega-3 and omega-6 studies for ADHD was published. Cochrane Reviews are systematic reviews of human research. When it comes to dietary supplements, Cochrane reviews tend to be extremely conservative.
When a Cochrane Review favors a nutritional ingredient, you know the science is about as strong as it can get. Even a mildly positive finding in a Cochrane Review is an indication that there are some strong studies behind the ingredient. When a Cochrane Review does not favor a nutritional ingredient, however, it doesn’t mean the research is not strong. Research on integrative therapies tends to be not as cut-and-dry as that for pharmaceutical ingredients, so to conform the studies to the designs of pharmaceutical trials does not always give accurate results.
Nonetheless, a recent Cochrane Review examined the benefits of omega-3s and omega-6s for ADHD. To give you an idea of the selection process, they began with 388 references and pared that down to just 23 relevant studies. From those studies, they selected 13 that met their [probably far too stringent to appropriately apply to the study of most dietary ingredients] standards.
You can see that they do not consider the overall picture here. They did find some benefit, however. “There was a significantly higher likelihood of improvement in the group receiving omega-3/6 PUFA [polyunsaturated fatty acids] compared to placebo.” They also stated, “Future studies should use active PUFA supplements at dosages shown to significantly increase circulating PUFA and, in particular, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 PUFA, and use supplements for considerably longer periods than the maximum of 16 weeks identified in this review.
To me, it is a good sign that the Cochrane Review recognizes the potential of this therapy for children and adolescents with ADHD. Let the scientists work out the details of what we holistic-minded practitioners have known for decades.