Home » ADDers Are More Likely to Have Fatty Acid Deficiencies

ADDers Are More Likely to Have Fatty Acid Deficiencies

ADDers Are More Likely to Have Fatty Acid Deficiencies

A Purdue University study showed that kids low in Omega-3 essential fatty acids are significantly more likely to be hyperactive, have learning disorders, and to display behavioral problems. Omega-3 deficiencies have also been tied to dyslexia, violence, depression, memory problems, weight gain, cancer, heart disease, eczema, allergies, inflammatory diseases, arthritis, diabetes, and many other conditions. Over 2,000 scientific studies have demonstrated the wide range of problems associated with Omega-3 deficiencies. The American diet is almost devoid of Omega 3’s except for certain types of fish. In fact, researchers believe that about 60% of Americans are deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids, and about 20% have so little that test methods cannot even detect any in their blood. 

Your brain is more than 60% structural fat, just as your muscles are made of protein and your bones are made of calcium. But it’s not just any fat that our brains are made of. It has to be certain types of fats, and we no longer eat these types of fats like we used to. Worse, we eat man-made trans-fats and excessive amounts of saturated fats and vegetable oils high in Omega-6 fatty acids, all of which interfere which our body’s attempt to utilize the tiny amount of Omega-3 fats that it gets.

Other parts of our bodies also need Omega-3 fatty acids. Symptoms of fatty acid deficiency include a variety of skin problems such as eczema, thick patches of skin, and cracked heels. In the fall of 1998, after reading about the Purdue study which associated fatty-acid deficiencies with learning disorders and hyperactivity, I began to give my six-year son a tablespoon of Barlean’s Flax Oil each day, and I took the same amount myself (mixed with yogurt). Flax oil is extremely high in Omega-3’s. I also reduced our consumption of trans-fats and increase the amount of olive and canola oil in our diet. After one month, the incurable eczema located on the back of my son’s legs vanished, and it is still gone as of this writing (5/99). That eczema had not responded to diet changes, cremes, or allergy medication, and he’d had it for years, so bad that he would scratch it until it bled and caused him to lose sleep. Then, during the next three months my cracked heels slowly improved until they too were cured. Like my son’s rashes, my cracked heels had not responded to any type of treatment for several years, even though I tried lotions and pumice stones to thin the skin. Today, they are fine. I can only imagine what the fatty-acid deficiency we clearly both had had was doing to me and my son neurologically, and I am grateful to have learned about it. My son has been doing great in Kindergarten with very few behavior problems, and is ahead of his peers in reading, so I can’t help but wonder if the increase in Omega-3 fatty acids is a factor in that. While I’ll never know for sure, I suspect that it was. 


Signs of Fatty Acid Imbalance (from the book “Smart Fats”)
Dry skin
Frequent urination
Attention deficit
Soft nails
Alligator skin
Lowered immunity
Dry, unmanageable hair
Excessive thirst
Brittle, easily frayed nails
“Chicken skin” on backs of arms
Dry eyes
Learning problems
Poor wound healing
Frequent infections
Patches of pale skin on cheeks
Cracked skin on heels or fingertips


Imagine your brain conducting some routine maintenance on your dopamine and serotonin receptors (implicated in both ADD and mood disorders). These receptors are composed of an Omega-3 fatty acid called DHA. If you don’t have much DHA in your blood, man-made trans-fat molecules may be used as a construction material instead. But trans-fats (hydrogenated oils) are shaped differently than DHA: they are straight while DHA is curved. The dopamine receptor becomes deformed and doesn’t work very well. Repeat this scenario day after day, year after year, and you could wind up with problems like depression and problems concentrating. This problem is most severe for a child whose brain is still developing.


“A lack of highly unsaturated fats is particularly noticeable in connection with brain and nerve functioning. An adjustment in diet to one with oil and protein contents high in unsaturated fats brings the best results in children. I have often observed this when called in to treat cancer patients. In general, I recommend that the whole family adjust their food intake so that they use the optimal, natural fats. As for children whose scholastic performance is often below standard — and it’s usually the case in families where the parents don’t eat correctly — the results of an optimal fat intake normally begin to show themselves in school marks being bettered by not only one, but two levels.” – from “Flax Oil as a True Aid…” by Dr. Johanna Budwig, a seven time nobel prize nominee and considered by many to be the foremost authority on fats & healing, 1959.


Now imagine a child in school learning math. The act of learning requires the brain to form new neural pathways. DHA is needed, especially for the delicate neural synapses which are composed entirely of DHA. This child, like the vast majority of U.S. children, eats almost no Omega-3 fatty acids. What does the brain do? Again, it struggles and finally uses other types of fats, which are the wrong shape. The neural network develops slowly and is defective. The child has learning and memory problems as well as behavior problems.


“The Link Between Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Learning
(from “The Omega Plan”)
“In a study of learning ability, rats were raised on either a diet that was deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids or one that was nutritionally complete. Initially, both groups of rats had similar numbers of synaptic vesicles. After a month-long learning program, however, the Omega-3 enriched rats had considerably more vesicles in their nerve endings and also performed markedly better on the tests. This study suggests there may be a direct connection between the amount Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, the number of synaptic vesicles in your neurons, and your ability to learn.”


I believe that within the next 5 or 10 years the population at large will become familiar with the issue of fatty acid deficiency and the harm causes by transfats, and there will be significant changes in the way food is formulated and marketed. In 1994 the Center For Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA to require labeling of transfats. In 1998 Consumer Reports called for similar labeling (Nov. 98 issue). In response to growing pulic pressure and the rising number of studies implicating transfats, the FDA has announced a new rule that will require the transfat content of foods, but it won’t become effective for a few years. Companies are beginning to market omega-3 foods, like tuna and eggs from chickens fed with high-omega 3 foods. Babyfood companies like Gerber are talking about adding DHA to foods (meanwhile the same food still contains transfats). In Japan parents have been giving their kids DHA supplements for years to improve their grades.


“Struggling With Jamie”
From “Smart Fats” by Michael Schmidt
“Jamie was a ten-year-old boy who seemed to struggle with behavioral problems almost from the beginning. He was inattentive, aggressive, and had difficulty with coordination. Sports were hard for him and learning was no better… Jamie also had patches of dry skin and coarse, unruly hair — clues to fatty acid imbalance. Jamie began taking a balanced fatty acid supplement that contained DHA, GLA, and ALA from DHA oil, primrose oil, and flax seed oil respectively. It took roughly six months, but Jamie became “a different child” according to his mother. His balance and motor problems improved along with his behavioral problems.”


Research has shown that the diets of hunter/gatherers were rich in Omega-3’s. They ate a mix of meat, fruits and vegetables, with little or no grains. Green leafy vegetables, certain seeds and nuts, and wild game are rich in Omega-3’s. It turns out that cows, chickens and other animals have much higher levels of Omega-3s when they are fed by “free-range” methods because they eat lots of green leafy vegetables. On the other hand, if they are fed grain, their Omega-3 levels crash. Wild game is much healthier to eat and it is much leaner than farm-raised animals. 

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Difference in Fat Between a Wild Cape Buffalo (black bars)
and a modern steer (gray bars). 
From “The Omega Plan” by Artemis Simpopoulos, M.D.

Hunter/gatherers ate greens with lots of Omega-3’s. We know this because scientists have actually tested many of the plants and animals eaten by existing and past hunter/gatherer groups. These have been replaced primarily with grains, which contain the wrong kinds of fats. 

More Detail Than You May Want to Know: EPA, DHA, and the Omega-3 family of Eicosanoids are important types of Omega-3 fatty acids. Normally our body can manufacture all of these products if it has plenty of the parent Omega-3 fatty acid called Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) found naturally in green leafy vegetables, flax, flaxseed and canola oil, walnuts and Brazil nuts. (Note: DHA is not to be confused with DHEA, a popular hormonal supplement).

Our bodies convert ALA to EPA; EPA to DHA; and DHA to Omega-3 Eichosanoids. There are many things that can interfere with this process, especially vegetable oils in the diet. Note that it is possible to acquire EPA and DHA directly by eating fish oil, certain eggs, or by taking supplements. Fatty fish contain plenty of both substances. Plenty of studies have shown that fish-eating cultures have much better health, including mental health. 

DHA is particularly important for brain functions. Scientists have discovered that severely depressed people are lower in DHA, and the more depressed they are, the less DHA they have. One ancient remedy for depression was to feed the patient animal brains, now known to be extremely high in DHA and Omega-3 fatty acids. Incidentally, alcohol is known to deplete DHA stores extremely rapidly. 

While the body can theoretically manufacture its own DHA out of the parent ALA fatty acid, things can interfere with this conversion. The most important problem is an excess of Omega-6 fatty acids in the bloodstream, which use the same enzymes for a similar type of conversion. This is why it is extremely important not to have too many Omega-6 fats in your diet (the vegetable oils like sunflower and soybean oil). Other problems might inhibit the conversion process, such as a deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals.

Infants who are fed formula in the United States receive almost no Omega-3’s, while infants who are breast fed thrive on milk rich in DHA (the amount depends on the mother’s diet). Researchers have found that infants who are fed formulas enriched with Omega-3’s or who are breast fed do better visually and intellectually.

Incidentally, pregnant women experience a major loss in DHA as their DHA is rerouted to the fetus. This may be one reason depression is so common after child birth.

Why I think of trans fats as “plastic”: Trans-fats are manufactured by bubbling hydrogen gas through super-heated vegetable oil in the presence of nickel. The fat molecules are changed chemically so they are not very reactive, making them good for frying and for sitting on the grocery store shelf a very long time. The electrical properties of these fats are changed as well as their shape. 

It’s been said that margarine, a trans-fat, is one electron away from plastic. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but the image has stuck with me. These man-made trans-fats are being used by our bodies as building material, but they’re all wrong. Imagine your brain being replaced molecule by molecule with plastic instead of fat. And you wonder why you can’t remember where you left your keys.

Don’t eat these fats! Put them in the same category as arsenic or PCBs. Plastics that will invade your brain. I may be exaggerating just a bit, but I’m serious about the dangers of trans-fats. 

Read your labels. Avoid any product that has oils which have been “hydrogenated” or “partly hydrogenated.” You’ll be amazed when you see how much of this garbage you’ve been eating. It’s in the majority of prepared foods including breads, crackers potato chips, and cookies. Mayonnaise is a glob of trans-fat. When eating out, your worst foods are deep fried foods (including french fries), donuts, and muffins.

Why it’s Bad to Eat Too Many Vegetable Oils: That’s right, one more things is bad for you! Vegetable oils contains Omega-6 fatty acids, and we eat lots of these. Sunflower oil, soybean oil, safflower oil and most other vegetable oils contain lots of Omega-6 fatty acids. This is bad for a couple of reasons:

1. Omega-6 fatty acids feed tumors. Cancer growth rates nearly explode in the presence of a high level of Omega-6 fatty acids (which many of us have). On the other hand, Omega-3 fatty acids slow the growth rate of tumors significantly, or even decrease their size.

2. The enzymes used to break parent Omega-6 fatty acids down into various compounds are shared by Omega-3 fatty acids. If you have a lot of Omega-6 fatty acids in your blood stream and only a small amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, the enzymes will probably be used up by the Omega-6 fatty acids, and you will be unable to manufacture DHA out of ALA.

3. Omega-6 fatty acids are broken down into substances which promote inflammation and other problems while Omega-3 fatty acids are broken down into substances that reduce inflammation. Therefore, there should be a balance between the two oil. The typical ratio in the U.S. is currently 22:1 in favor of the Omega-6 fatty acids. The ideal ratio is between 1:1 and 4:1.

Go to Part II: How to Correct a Fatty Acid Imbalance


There are lots of websites and books about Omega-3 fatty acids and their benefits. And there have been thousands of studies conducted. Here are just a handful of resources to start with:


“Smart Fats: How Dietary Fats and Oils Affect Mental, Physical and Emotional Intelligence” by Michael A. Schmidt. There is so much valuable information in this book I found myself wanting to reprint every chapter on the web for my readers. Clearly written, fascinating, and it’s not a “pop” book.

omegab.gif (3788 bytes)The Omega Plan, by Artemis P. Simopoulos, M.D. and Jo Robinson, 1998, contains lots of information about Omega-3 fatty acids and their relationship to various diseases and conditions like cancer and heart disease, as well as recipes and fatty acid information for some common foods. I was glad I bought this book: The authors explained clearly many things which I had run across but didn’t quite understand. They also have a website with some useful information. Dr. Simpoulos is considered one of the leading experts in the field of nutrition and fat metabolism. My only complaint is the emphasis on fish oils, which are often contaminated and which can cause birth defects.

Flax Oil as a True Aid Against Arthritis, Heart Infarction, Cancer and Other Diseases. This book was written in 1959 by Dr. Johanna Budwig, nominated seven times for the Noble Peace Prize for her pioneering work with fats. I found reading this book much like reading Rachael Carson’s “Silent Spring”, the book that first warned about pesticides like DDT. That her warnings have been ignored by the medical mainstream for forty years is almost a crime.

Beyond Prozac: Brain-Toxic Lifestyles, Natural Antidotes & New Generation Antidepressants by Michael J. Norden, M.D

The Zone, by Barry Sears, Ph.D. , and the official Zone website. “The Zone” refers to a 40-30-30 balance (carbohydrates-protein-fat) in which the intake of oils is carefully monitored, mostly by using lots of olive & fish oil and avoiding other types of fats.

Online Articles

Purdue University Study Finds Link Between Fatty Acid Deficiency & Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) posted by The ADD Action Group.

Flaxseed by Michael T. Murray, ND

Cod Liver Oil Contaminated by Toxic Chlorine Chemicals Says Greenpeace: Be aware that contamination issues do exist.


Barlean’s Organic Oils: They have a very good reputation and some excellent articles about Omega-3 fatty acids and flaxseed oil. I purchase their 32 oz flaxseed oil online.

The Country Hen: The first company to sell high-Omega-3 eggs. I buy these at the grocery store in Connecticut, but they’re expensive.

Go to Part II

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