Fish Oil and Attention Deficit Disorder

September 02, 2008

Fish Oil and Attention Deficit Disorder 

 Competency # 13 Fats: Good Oils             Reference: Lavialle et al, J Nutrition, Sept 2008    Date:  9/08 

 We know that our brains are composed of approximately 40% omega fatty acids (PUFA: polyunsaturated fatty acid).  These critical nutritional components come from your diet and are essentially vitamins as we cannot make them ourselves.  We can convert ALA, a plant-based omega-three fatty acid to DHA, but slowly.  

Now, it’s known that omega-three fatty acids (n-3 PUFA) are actively involved in modulating the amount of melatonin your pineal gland that you secrete.  That means that the essential fatty acids may also be involved in the normal wake-sleep cycle of our daily lives.  There is also some evidence that locomotors and exploratory behavior is affected by the amount of n-3 PUFAs in your diet. 

 We also know that in the last 100 years we have been flooded with diets rich in vegetable oils (omega-six fatty acids, not omega threes).  The ratio of n-3 to n-6 used to be 1:2 and still is in “primitive” “pre-Western” diets.  In America, the ratio is 1: 20 and in many urban environments rich in “prepared” foods (AKA “junk foods”), the ratio is as high as 1: 50.  

That’s a huge change in our nutritional environment.  At the same time, we’ve stopped eating “grass-fed” meats or wild meats and have started eating feedlot-fed animals that have much lower n-3 fatty acid contents.  Does that change us? 

 Dr. Lavialle and company took Syrian Hamsters and fed them several different diets either lacking or rich in omega fatty acids.  Then they measured just how much time they spent on their treadmills.  Finally, they measured the amount of DHA in their brains, and the amount of dopamine in the striatum part of the brain, the part that manages your activity center.  Sure enough, a diet deficient in n-3 PUFAs had a 76% decline in the n-3 PUFAs in their brains.  The ratio of AA to DHA was 1.7 in controls, and changed to 8.4.  AA is arachidonic acid, another PUFA that is a precursor to inflammatory messengers, as opposed to DHA, an anti-inflammatory precursor. 

The deficient hamster's nighttime melatonin dropped over 52%.  Diet changed the brains of the hamsters.  In addition, the deficient hamsters ran on their treadmills some 85% more (longer and faster).  Finally, they adapted to time-shifting some 50% better, suggesting they didn’t have a very good functioning internal clock and could stay awake, or sleep any old time without deep restful sleep in between.  

Does this sound like anybody you know? This is pure basic science.  Hamsters are not humans.  But you can sacrifice a hamster and look in their brains and see the effects of changes in diet.  And you can keep them in a cage and measure their activity precisely in response to those changes.  Their lifespan runs to a couple of months.  They eat whatever you give them.  These are things we can’t do in humans. 

 WWW: What will work for me?  I take fish oil every day.  This article is another example of proof that our brains depend on the n-3s PUFAs we eat.  Fish oil.  It may not reverse ADD, but it suggests that there is real need to make sure our kids get it.  It’s my belief that the effects probably start in utero.  Pregnant mothers?  Now there is a great field for some research.   Grandma used to give us cod liver oil.  Perhaps she was smarter than we realized.

Column Written by Dr. John E Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI, (262-784-5300)