Can Maternal Diet Affect the Risk of ADHD Development in Offspring?

A higher omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in the mother’s diet may increase the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms in offspring, according to findings from a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Researchers quantified the levels of omega-6 and -3 that reached the fetus by sampling umbilical cord plasma. Omega-3 and omega-6 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) were assayed in 953 cord plasma samples based on availability. ADHD symptoms were assessed through questionnaires; the first completed by the children’s teacher at age 4 and the second by their parents at age 7. In total, 580 and 642 children in the 4-year-old and 7-year-old assessment periods, respectively, with data for both LCPUFA and ADHD were included in the analyses.

Results showed that at age 4, the omega-6:omega-3 ratio in cord plasma did not predict the risk of presenting ADHD symptom diagnostic criteria  (odds ratio [OR], 1.11; 95% CI, 0.73–1.71). However, at age 7, the ADHD index increased by 13% per each omega-6:omega-3 ratio unit in the umbilical cord plasma (incidence rate ratio [IRR], 1.13; 95% CI, 1.03–1.23).

“The subscales that showed statistically significant associations were the cognitive problems/inattention (IRR, 1.12; 95% CI, 1.01–1.25) and the hyperactivity subscales (IRR, 1.13; 95% CI, 1.02–1.25),” write the authors.

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These effect estimates were not clinically significant, but the authors state that they are important at the population level. “If a large proportion of the population is exposed to a high omega-6:omega-3 ratio, the distribution for ADHD symptom scores would likely move to the right and the prevalence of extreme values would increase, leading to a negative impact on the community’s health costs and productivity,” said Mónica López-Vicente, ISGlobal researcher and lead author of the study.

Previous studies have shown a relationship between omega-3 supplementation and a decreased impairment in executive functioning among some children. Omega-6 fatty acids promote systemic pro-inflammatory states, while omega-3 promotes anti-inflammatory states, and are primarily obtained through diet.

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