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Researchers: Fat in the diet may affect mental ability

Researchers say omega-3, found naturally in fish, may help some immune diseases and mental disorders  
September 4, 1998
Web posted at: 6:36 p.m. EDT (2236 GMT)

From CNN Medical Correspondent Dan Rutz

(CNN) -- There may be more to the pleasure of eating than good company or the flavor of a favorite dish. Scientists meeting in Washington are reviewing evidence that fat in the diet may affect moods and the ability to learn.

Sixth grader Marc Schmid and his mother, Mary Anna, say they are true believers in the saying, "you are what you eat."

A year ago, performance tests suggested Marc had attention deficit disorder. He was smart enough, but had trouble concentrating. The school counselors recommended medication.

"I really didn't want to try Ritalin first," Mary Anna Schmid said.

Instead the Schmids embarked on a natural approach: dietary changes with emphasis on essential fatty acids.

One of these, omega-3 is notable scarce in the typical American diet. But according to some experts, it may be necessary for good health, both physical and mental.

Schmid family
Mary Anna Schmid says adding omega-3 to her son's diet helped relieve symptoms of attention deficient disorder  

For many, supplements may be best way to get enough of the fatty acid.

"If you give supplements, the blood fatty acid levels change and the behavior of the children changes," said nutritional researcher Jacqueline Story. "I've seen that in my own research."

Mary Anna Schmid said within weeks of changing his diet, her son was doing better in school.

"The teachers noticed a difference in his behavior at school; more outgoing, more self-assured; he was participating more in class," she said.

William Lands, a researcher with the National Institutes of Health, said Americans suffer an imbalance in fatty acids -- too much omega-6, found in vegetable oils, deep fried foods, dressing and margarines, and too little omega-3, found in fish and some vegetables.

"What we do know is that the omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids do affect our hormone responses very definitely," Lands said.

Omega-6 is linked to hormonal overload which plays some role in arthritis, asthma and other diseases involving the immune system.

Omega-3, however, has a calming effect on hormone production which may help relieve some immune system diseases as well as mental conditions ranging from depression to attention deficit.

"I think that most people believe that diet did influence the severity and the frequency of some of these disorders," he said.

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