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Behavioral Issues

Curing ADD in Children

By Dr. Barry Sears
Zone Living In recent years, attention deficit disorder (ADD) has received national attention as the condition has become an epidemic in the United States, afflicting an estimated three to five percent of our children. Although there are six different types of ADD, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), I have grouped them all together as ADD.

One factor common to all ADD patients is a deficiency of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Drugs such as Ritalin, which increase dopamine production, are commonly prescribed to bring these conditions under control. Since high-dose fish oil also increases dopamine levels, it would make sense that it should help alleviate ADD—without the need for drugs.

Many of my insights into ADD have come from my associations with two colleagues, Ned Hallowell, one of the most respected leaders in the treatment of ADD in children, and Dan Amen, who did pioneering work with brain scans to identify different types of ADD by determining differences in blood flow to the brain (using a specialized imaging technique called SPECT). The fact that blood flow is also altered in ADD makes this condition a much more complicated disease than simply a decrease in dopamine levels in the brain. It appears that certain areas of the brain have an increased blood flow, giving rise to “hot spots” of increased activity. Here’s another interesting observation: The severity of ADD is directly linked to the level of silent inflammation in the blood, as measured by the Silent Inflammation Profile blood test.

Children with ADD have a much higher Silent Inflammation Profile than normal children. Therefore, the problem of ADD is much more complicated than simply the lack of dopamine in the brain.

Currently, the treatment of ADD has focused on drugs, such as Ritalin, that increase the levels of dopamine.  But what if this apparent lack of dopamine were a secondary symptom of increased silent inflammation?  It is also known, from animal experiments, that long-chain omega-3 fatty acids also increase dopamine levels and the number of dopamine receptors in the brain.  This would indicate that ADD may be more connected to a nutritional deficiency (lack of dietary EPA and DHA) than to any underlying medical or psychological condition. This hypothesis correlates well with animal studies that indicate, after three generations of deficiencies in the intake of omega-3 fatty acids, that significant behavioral and cognitive defects appear in their offspring. 

Today’s children represent the third generation of Americans who have been exposed to a dramatic decrease of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. Initial published studies indicate that, if you give small amounts of EPA and DHA, there is a trend toward improved behavior in the children with ADD.  In my initial pilot studies of children with ADD, I often needed to give them up to 15 grams of EPA and DHA per day to bring their Silent Inflammation Profile to a measurement of 2 (Ideal ratio is 1.5-3). Once they reach that level, their behavioral disorders become controlled to the same extent as by taking Ritalin. But, unlike Ritalin, which only treats the symptoms of ADD, high-dose fish oil appears to treat the underlying cause—silent inflammation.

The reason that children with ADD need so much EPA and DHA is that they probably have the same accelerated metabolism of omega-3 fatty acids as found in Alzheimer’s patients. Recent data has confirmed this hypothesis in children with ADD.

One major caveat: Once you reduce the fish oil intake, the Silent Inflammation Profile will probably increase again, and all the behavioral benefits quickly erode.

Excerpted from The Anti-Inflammation Zone - Reversing The Silent Epidemic That's Destroying Our Health. Copyright © by Barry Sears, Ph.D. Used by permission.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. As with any natural product, individual results will vary.

For more information about Dr. Barry Sears, his incredible fish oil supplements, or the popular Zone Diet, please visit

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Dr. Barry SearsDr. Barry Sears is a leader in the field of dietary control of hormonal response. A former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his efforts over the past 25 years to the study of lipids and their inflammatory role in the development of chronic disease. He holds 13 U.S. Patents in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease.

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