Fish Oils In Autism: Worth the Hype?Oct 24, 2023
One of the most common supplement questions I get asked in my psychiatry practice is if fish oil supplements may benefit individuals on the autism spectrum. In this blog post, I will share the most common reasons I prescribe fish oils to my patients on the autism spectrum.
Fish oils promote brain health due to their high Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids concentration. These natural compounds are essential to maintaining a healthy brain, heart, and immune system. The body does not make omega-3s independently, so humans need to get them from food or supplements. They are in fish, seafood, and some algae and dairy products. These food groups can be complex for autistic people to access if food sensitivities, sensory issues, or availability of these foods make them hard to consume. As a result, many autistic people may have lower blood levels of omega-3- 3 than is recommended for optimal brain health.
When we consider the benefits of omega 3's in autism, it's essential to consider what areas of brain health we are looking to improve. As a psychiatrist reviewing the research, I find the most science to support omega-3 supplements is with autism and co-occurring issues such as mood disorders, depression, and attention issues.
For depressed, sad moods, the specific kind of omega 3, Known as EPA, is most helpful. This omega-three can help decrease brain inflammation and improve communication between brain cells. The research shows that these supplements are most beneficial when added to existing treatments, such as antidepressants and therapy.
In a study by Mehdi, looking at around 200 people with depression, they found patients receiving both the omega-3 fish oil supplement and an antidepressant showed a much more significant improvement in their depression compared to those taking only fish oil supplement or only an antidepressant.
Recommended daily dosages for depression range from 1000 to 2000 milligrams (mg) of EPA. However, it can be challenging to find commercial-grade fish oils that provide high enough concentrations of EPA in a single capsule. One brand I recommend is called Omega Vie. They come in 500 mg tablets, so taking 2-4 pills to reach the target dosing is possible.
So, what does omega-3 have to do with ADHD? Several studies over the years have suggested that people with ADHD may have deficient levels of omega-3s. This imbalance may contribute to more intense ADHD symptoms. Therefore, supplementing with omega-3s may help correct the imbalance and alleviate some of the symptoms associated with ADHD.
In 2011, a research trial looking at over 700 children found that omega-3 supplementation had a small but significant effect in reducing symptoms of ADHD. When the different omega-3 supplements were compared, higher doses of EPA worked better.
One particular brand of omega-3 supplement that has gained popularity among my patients is Equazen. Equazen supplements contain a unique ratio of EPA, DHA, and GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), another omega-6 fatty acid that promotes healthy brain function. The Equazen formula optimizes the brain's cognitive and behavioral functions. The goal of supplementing for ADHD is to improve memory, attention, and learning.
POTENTIAL SIDE EFFECTS
Fish oil supplements, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, are generally considered safe when taken at recommended doses. However, they may have potential side effects like any supplement or medication. Common side effects of fish oil supplements can include:
Fishy Aftertaste: One of the most common side effects of fish oil supplements is a fishy taste or aftertaste. Some people may experience burping or a fishy breath odor after taking fish oil capsules.
Upset Stomach: Some individuals may experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, indigestion, or nausea when taking fish oil supplements. Taking supplements with food can help reduce these symptoms.
Heartburn: Fish oil supplements may cause heartburn or acid reflux in some individuals.
Allergic Reactions: Although rare, some people may be allergic to fish or fish oil supplements. Allergic reactions can include hives, itching, swelling, or difficulty breathing. If you suspect an allergy, seek medical attention immediately.
Bleeding Risk: High doses of fish oil, especially in combination with blood-thinning medications, can increase the risk of bleeding.
The majority of people take fish oil supplements without experiencing significant side effects. If you are considering fish oil supplements, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare provider, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking medications, to ensure they are safe and appropriate for your specific situation. Additionally, choosing high-quality supplements from reputable manufacturers can help reduce the likelihood of adverse effects.
Rest assured, I have no conflicts of interest from any of the fish oil brands, including those fish oil options we mentioned earlier. I'm here to help and share what could be helpful for you!
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