Omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid levels and correlations with symptoms in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autistic spectrum disorder and typically developing controls

Natalie Parletta, Theo NIYONSENGA, Jacques Duff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

34 Citations (Scopus)
10 Downloads (Pure)


Background There is evidence that children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have lower omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (n-3 PUFA) levels compared with controls and conflicting evidence regarding omega-6 (n-6) PUFA levels. Objectives This study investigated whether erythrocyte n-3 PUFAs eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) were lower and n-6 PUFA arachidonic acid (AA) higher in children with ADHD, ASD and controls, and whether lower n-3 and higher n-6 PUFAs correlated with poorer scores on the Australian Twin Behaviour Rating Scale (ATBRS; ADHD symptoms) and Test of Variable Attention (TOVA) in children with ADHD, and Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) in children with ASD. Methods Assessments and blood samples of 565 children aged 3-17 years with ADHD (n = 401), ASD (n = 85) or controls (n = 79) were analysed. One-way ANOVAs with Tukey's post-hoc analysis investigated differences in PUFA levels between groups and Pearson's correlations investigated correlations between PUFA levels and ATBRS, TOVA and CARS scores. Results Children with ADHD and ASD had lower DHA, EPA and AA, higher AA/EPA ratio and lower n-3/n-6 than controls (P < 0.001 except AA between ADHD and controls: P = 0.047). Children with ASD had lower DHA, EPA and AA than children with ADHD (P < 0.001 for all comparisons). ATBRS scores correlated negatively with EPA (r = -.294, P < 0.001), DHA (r = -.424, P < 0.001), n-3/n-6 (r = -.477, P < 0.001) and positively with AA/EPA (r = .222, P <. 01). TOVA scores correlated positively with DHA (r = .610, P < 0.001), EPA (r = .418, P < 0.001) AA (r =.199, P < 0.001), and n-3/n-6 (r = .509, P < 0.001) and negatively with AA/EPA (r = -.243, P < 0.001). CARS scores correlated significantly with DHA (r =. 328, P = 0.002), EPA (r = -.225, P = 0.038) and AA (r = .251, P = 0.021). Conclusions Children with ADHD and ASD had low levels of EPA, DHA and AA and high ratio of n-6/n-3 PUFAs and these correlated significantly with symptoms. Future research should further investigate abnormal fatty acid metabolism in these disorders
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0156432
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalPLoS One
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2016
Externally publishedYes


Cite this