A Closer Look at Using Fish Oil for Autism

Can you really use fish oil for autism and autistic behavior?

While fish oils may not be a definitive cure for autism, some studies indicate they may improve behavior and reduce some symptoms.

Fish oil is a natural source of the omega 3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docoshexaenoic acid (DHA).

These essential fatty acids have been found to play an important role in the healthy development of a child’s growing body.

Some researchers believe there may be a link between EPA and DHA, and the risk for developing autistic behaviors, as well as reducing autistic symptoms.

This article will take a closer look at the effects of omega 3 fatty acids and fish oil in treating autism and autistic behavior in children.

What is Autism?

Autism is a disorder with many different symptoms. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines autism as:

“Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neuro-development disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.”

Is There a Link Between Diet and Childhood Autism?

autistic school children with teacher

Over the last 20th century, researchers have found an inverse relationship between Western society’s reduced consumption of fish and a corresponding increase in autism rates.

Food scientists agree that our diets are lacking in omega 3 fatty acids. These essential fatty acids play a key role in the healthy development of a child’s neurological development.

With the current belief that a diet low in essential fats may increase the risk for autistic behavior, researchers at the University of Western Ontario recently confirmed a ‘gut-brain connection’ to autism. Scientists believe our digestive systems make compounds linked to autistic behavior and that what we eat can alter our brain function.

Conflicting Research on Fish Oils and Autism

There’s currently conflicting research on how effective fish oils and EPA and DHA are in treating or reducing autistic behavior:

  • Vienna scientists conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled study to determine the effects of omega 3 fats on autism.  Children with autism symptoms, including aggressiveness, temper tantrums or self-inflicted injuries received 840 mg. of EPA and 700 mg. of DHA for a six week period. Researchers claimed there was a marked difference in behavior patterns in the children receiving the omega 3 fatty acids.

  • Another study published in the 2017 Nov. issue of Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found omega 3 fatty acids improved language development in children at risk for autism.

However, there’s research showing no marked difference in autistic behavior and symptoms:

  • A recent study published in the journal Molecular Autism found fish oil fatty acids have no benefit in autism symptoms and language development in toddlers and preschoolers with autism.

  • Additionally, researchers at Arizona State University reviewed a number of randomized clinical trials of omega 3 fatty acids compared to placebo in children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder and found no evidence fatty acids improve autistic symptoms.

Some of the unanswered questions include what is the best fish oil dosage and do only specific type of autistic behavior respond to omega 3 fatty acids?

While some of the above results look encouraging, more research is needed to determine if fish oils can really help improve symptoms in autism.


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