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Effects of Fatty Acid Supplementation on Symptoms of ADHD
October 3, 2009
Health psychology is the field of psychology in which we study the effects of human behavior on health and well-being. It is not unusual to come across media that present false or incomplete information about how to change behavior in order to solve health-related issues. Forms of media such as magazines, television, and websites are often used to advertise a specific product or program that claims to assist in the health improvement process. Oftentimes, the information about these products is readily available, very attractive on the surface, and cunningly persuasive. However, it is important to be critical of such claims.
In order to avoid falling victim to such false claims, it is necessary to determine whether or not the source is credible, whether the data is calculated accurately through reliable experimental methods, and whether enough research has been done to support new findings. The most accurate information about matters of human health and behavior can be found in scholarly journals which are peer-reviewed and professionally recognized as valid tools for scientific research. Despite various claims that supplementation of fatty acids reduces the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, scientific studies have yet to produce results establishing significant effects on symptoms of ADHD (Chalon, S., 2009).
Unsupported Website Claims
The following claims were located on websites containing information about fatty acid supplementation as a treatment for ADHD. Close attention should be paid to the amateur wording, exaggerated assertions, and visually pleasing graphics, all of which attempt to compensate for a lack of scientific content. Thorough evaluation of these website claims reveal incomplete research and insufficient information regarding fatty acid treatments for ADHD.
Figure 1. An example of a combination treatment for ADHD without sufficient evidence.
Website Claim Example A
In her article, “ADHD: Fatty Acid Supplementation Could Help”, “The Herb Woman” claims that Miracle Seed could be taken to alleviate symptoms of ADHD along with a wide variety of other diseases (http://theherbwoman.com/?p=120). This website cleverly uses generalized background information regarding ADHD and fatty acid levels to display some level of expertise. An oblivious reader may feel comforted by such a scientific-sounding argument. However, in my opinion, a website that professes “good scientific information on herbal products” triggers a somewhat skeptical reaction about the validity of given information. “Good” does not indicate that a professional-level analysis has been performed on the products. Who is this so-called “Herb Woman”? Is she a doctor or a specialist in the field of herbal remedies? What research has been done to acquire knowledge about the effects of Miracle Seed on ADHD symptoms? If navigation through this website does not provide answers to these questions, it is probable that the presented information is not adequate. Rather, the website is designed to inspire ignorant, desperate, or frustrated parents of ADHD children to purchase a potentially faulty product.
Website Claim Example B
Figure 2. An advertisement image of a team from Newideas.Net.
The above depicted group of researchers presents Attend as the “most advanced ‘natural alternative ADHD remedy’ available today.” Notice that the characters in the picture exhibit rather overstated expressions of satisfaction, comfort, and joy. A more professional site would most likely contain more realistic illustrations, emphasizing the authenticity of the information by focusing on more important information such as scientific data representations and facts.
From the website statements, we know that the ingredients of Attend consist of essential fatty acids, various amino acids, and other unidentified “homeopathic medications”. Ingredients of Attend are listed in a brief introduction that includes no detailed information about trails or case studies of children who have used this form of treatment. In order to make a well-informed purchase, it is pertinent that this information is obtainable.
Figure 3. Attend: A Homeopathic Medicinal for Attention Difficulties
Another critique of this particular website as a source of information is that not enough research has been carried out in order to present conclusive evidence. Similar to many websites not supported by scientific research, Newideas.Net does not provide data on background research that proves the validity and safety of their product. Even the name, “Newideas.Net”, admits uncertainty. Obviously, a new idea must be tested in order to produce results that can be applied to a population. In my opinion, it is not safe to assume that Attend will be devoid of negative side effects or that purchase and administration of the product will be a waste of money and time.
Website Claim Example C
Thinkwell Liquid is an essential fatty acid solution characterized by the tagline: “just plain genius” (http://www.kidzworld.co.za/pressoffice/news/thinkwell.htm). A critical first impression produces a skeptical outcome due to this slogan’s lack of backup scientific data. With a delicious citrus flavor to mask the typical fishy taste and a less frequent dosage requirement, this “revolutionary” supplement is initially attractive to viewers. Further investigation of the product, though, exposes uncertainties in the effects on ADHD individuals.
Figure 4 (left). Thinkwell Liquid as an Alternative Treatment for ADHD.
Importance of Website Skepticism
Websites are not always reviewed or monitored, so they are easy and accessible avenues for corrupt and amateur individuals to post goods and services. For this reason, websites often present unofficial data that is convenient and available to many people who are interested in obtaining information. A review of unsupported website claims reveals deficiencies in their arguments attempting to persuade viewers to purchase these products. These websites use appealing visuals and wording with weak concentration on scientific evidence to sell their goods or services. Before making a decision about treatment, however, it is necessary to review scientific literature on the topic.
Why are ADHD Alternative Treatments Popular Today?
Many disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorders have no identifiable cause and therefore no proven method of treatment. For example, ADHD medication results in reduced symptoms but fails to alleviate all negative effects of the disorder. Therapy can only do so much as children with ADHD are simply prone to more hyperactive behavior (Cormier, E., Elder, J.H., 2007). Without a guaranteed form of medication or therapy, many eager parents and determined researchers alike have attempted various alternative treatments for ADHD. Of these alternative treatments, nutrition has received much attention recently as a natural remedy for such disorders.
Nutritional Categories of Treatment
Because nutritional treatments are safe and natural, many parents find this form of treatment favorable, especially when other methods prove to be incompetent. ADHD research has recently focused on curing symptoms through compliance with nutritional diets including “food additives, refined sugars, food allergies, and fatty acid metabolism (Schnoll, 2003).” Of these categories, fatty acids have received the most recent attention.
Common Experimental Methods
Many of the studies attempting to find solutions within these nutritional categories have employed poor experimental methods. For example, an “elimination diet” designed to distinguish between group results based on food additive amounts used insufficient quantities of food dyes to induce any effects in the experimental group. Sugar intake was recorded via retrospective parental self-report, which is often incorrect since parents must rely solely on memory and may purposefully exclude information in order to appear organized and obedient. Food sensitivities are highly individualized, and thus it is nearly impossible to apply findings of effects of food allergies on hyperactive behavior to an entire population of children with ADHD. (Schnoll et al., 2003). The most significant effects were found in experimentation including essential fatty acids.
Random variables that may interfere with studies on nutritional treatment of ADHD include parental compliance, childhood discipline, and expectations that might sway recording of results. Many of the studies use only a small sample of participants, observe children in an unnatural setting, and only use one or two dependent variables. For these reasons, experimental design should be improved so that future studies are able to result in more reliable measurements.
A Noteworthy Scientific Study
Of the scientific literature that I have reviewed, Raanan Raz, Ph.D., Rafael L. Carasso, M.D., and Shlomo Yehuda, Ph. D. (2009) conducted what I consider to be the most valid and reliable study on fatty acids’ effects on ADHD. This experiment specified short-chain fatty acids as the treatment variable, producing very informative results compared to other studies with more generalized independent variables. This study is also very up-to-date and encompasses an extensive list of background research on fatty acids and their effects on ADHD.
Children ages 7-13 who were previously professionally diagnosed with ADHD were recruited via media programs, and well-constructed criteria excluded children who suffer from other psychiatric disorders, have used medication for ADHD during the former month, and those who have consumed fatty acid supplementation during the previous three months. After all participation requirements were met, there remained a total of 78 participants. Subjects were matched according to age and gender, and the pair was subsequently randomly divided between the essential fatty acid group and the placebo group. Several subjects discontinued the experiment, so the final results were calculated from 32 participants in the essential fatty acid supplementation group and 31 participants in the placebo group.
Measurments included several questionnaires completed by individuals within different domains of influence such as school and the home, performance tests administered by trained psychologists, and blood tests executed by professionals. This collection of measurements was integrated to produce comprehensive results that eliminate errors in measurement technique such as placebo effect, parental bias, and other random variables.
Results of this experiment show no significant results of fatty acid supplementation on symptoms of ADHD in children.
Parents of children with ADHD rely on professionals whom they trust to provide effective solutions and to debunk myths of alternative treatment methods. Even though fatty acid supplementation does not cause harmful side effects, it is important for professionals to provide honest and unexaggerated information from studies on ADHD and fatty acid supplementation. It is pertinent that parents know the inconclusive information concerning fatty acid supplementation despite deficient claims with regard to this nutritional form of treatment.
The most significant cost of fatty acid supplementation treatment is time. Compliance with this very specific diet requires substantial planning, supervision, and observation. Purchasing fatty acid supplements or certain foods with higher concentrations of fatty acids also presents an additional expense to this form of treatment. Because results from these experiments do not produce significant results, it is unethical to suggest that fatty acid supplementation is a primary treatment for ADHD.
Analysis of Past Research
Many hormones regulate bodily functions using eicosanoids, which are fatty acid chains produced from elongation and desaturation of essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids can only enter the body through food consumption (Hirayama, S., Hamazaki, T., and Terasawa, K., 2004). Since ADHD symptoms include irregular bodily functions such as impulsivity and aggression, it makes sense that fatty acid intake could play a role in triggering the hyper-active states of individuals with ADHD.
In all of the scientific studies which I reviewed, increased fatty acid concentration from dietary supplements failed to increase sustained levels within the body of ADHD children. This finding suggests that fatty acid metabolism, rather than fatty acid intake, may contribute to irregular levels within the body.
Recommendations for Future Research
Because fatty acid supplementation has been ineffective for most ADHD subjects of scientific experimentation, future studies should focus on metabolism of fatty acids and other bodily functions that affect symptoms of ADHD.
Though unsupported claims are readily available to the public, scientific research on alternative treatments of ADHD is necessary before purchasing a product. Scientific literature, although more reliable, still may contain errors of design or measurement and should be critiqued. However, thorough research will provide very informative scientific studies that reveal the truth about natural treatment. Fatty acid supplementation has not yet been proven to be effective, indicating that future research should look toward a new direction such as metabolism of fatty acids in ADHD individuals.
Chalon, S. (2009). The role of fatty acids in the treatment of ADHD. Neuropharmacology. Retrieved from PubMed Database.
Cormier, E. and Elder, J.H. (Pitman:Mar/Apr 2007). Diet and Child Behavior Problems: Fact or Fiction? Pediatric Nursing. Vol. 33, Iss. 2, p. 138-43 (6 pp.) Retrieved from ProQuest LLC. Database.
Hirayama, S., Hamazaki, T., and Terasawa, K. (2004). Effect of docosahexaenoic acid- containing food administration on symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder – a placebo-controlled double-blind study. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 58, 467-473. Retrieved from ProQuest LLC. Database.
Raanan Raz, Ph.D., Rafael L. Carasso, M.D., and Shlomo Yehuda, Ph.D. (2009). The influence of short-chain essential fatty acids on children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a double-blind placebo-controlled study. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology. Volume 19, Number 2, Pp. 167-177. Retrieved from ProQuest LLC. Database.
Schnoll, R., Burshteyn, D., and Cea-Aravena, J. (New York:Mar 2003). Nutrition in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a neglected but important aspect. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. Vol. 28, Iss. 1, p. 63-75 Retrieved from ProQuest LLC. Database.
Stevens, Laura J, Zentall, Sydney S, Deck, John L, Abate, Marcey L, et
al. (Bethesda:Oct 1995). Essential fatty acid metabolism in boys with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vol. 62, Iss. 4, p. 761. Retrieved from ProQuest LLC. Database.
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