Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids (EFA), essential to good health. They cannot be created within the human body and must therefore be obtained from the diet.
Some people think that autistic individuals either do not have enough omega-3 or have too much omega-6 in relation to omega-3 in their bodies.
They think that this may cause or worsen some of the symptoms of autism, such as impaired communication and social difficulties.
They also think that these difficulties can be overcome by increasing the amount of omega 3 in the diet or by taking supplements (such as fish oils) which are rich in omega-3.
The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) made the following recommendations:
“Do not use omega-3 fatty acids to manage sleep problems in children and young people with autism.” (NICE, 2013).
There is a very small amount of high quality research evidence (13 group studies) and a small amount of low quality research (three single-case design studies with three or more participants) into the use of omega-3 fatty acids as an intervention for autistic people.
Some of those studies have reported benefits (such as increased social communication and interaction and decreased hyperactivity). Some of those studies have reported no benefits of any kind.
There is therefore insufficient evidence to determine if omega-3 fatty acids provide any benefits to anyone who is autistic.
Omega-3 is relatively cheap to obtain and relatively easy to administer, either as a supplement or as part of a diet.
Given the number of anecdotal reports of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, we recommend that further large scale, high quality research should take place.
Please read our Disclaimer on Autism Interventions