Taking Vayarin for Treating ADHD

A teen taking her medicine.

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On May 13, 2019, the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) reported that the sale of Vayarin had been permanently discontinued in the United States and the company that manufactured it, VAYA Pharma, Inc., had closed its doors.

In the past, the drug Vayarin was sometimes used as a treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. This article explains what Vayarin was and why it was thought to potentially help treat ADHD.

About Vayarin

Vayarin was described as a "medical food." The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines a medical food as a food supplied by a physician with the purpose of managing a disease.

The nutrients supplied by Vayarin were phosphatidylserine (PS), a fatty substance that protects brain cells, and the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). All these substances are involved in the function of brain and nerve cells, and their use was based on the theory that ADHD was related to a deficiency in those nutrients. Thus, Vayarin was thought to help correct the deficiency in those diagnosed with ADHD.

Other facts about the drug Vayarin include:

  • The recommended dosage of Vayarin was "two capsules daily or as directed by a physician."
  • Although there was no official age indication for Vayarin, it was studied in children between 6 and 13 years of age.
  • The suggested retail price for Vayarin was around $60 per month, and it typically wasn't covered by insurance. Therefore, this tended to be a more expensive ADHD treatment option.

Vayarin for ADHD: The Research

Several studies reported that Vayarin was effective at treating ADHD, though many had some issues. This included involving small numbers of participants or only noting minor improvements in ADHD symptoms.

One such study was published in 2014. This study of 722 children prescribed Vayarin found that 60% of the participants using this drug for three months reported some improvement. However, the study didn't include a control group for comparison.

Also, many of the study's participants stopped taking Vayarin before three months. One in five reported no benefit at all, and 12.9% never even filled their prescription. More than 43% also took a stimulant medication for ADHD, which could affect the results.

On a more positive note, in a different study that did have a placebo control group, Vayarin was found to have been typically well tolerated without major adverse events, such as affecting a child's body weight or growth. Therefore, if it didn't help children with ADHD, at least it likely didn't hurt them.

Omega-3's and ADHD

The idea that ADHD could be treated with omega-3 fatty acids is not a new idea. In 2001, a paper suggested that both omega-3 and omega-6 deficiencies or imbalances could increase one's risk of developing ADHD, and maybe even dyslexia and autism.

A 2011 meta-analysis of 10 trials of omega-3 supplements concluded that "Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation demonstrated a small but significant effect in improving ADHD symptoms." It further noted that omega-3 fatty acids might also help treat people with depression, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric disorders.

In 2014, another meta-analysis found that polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation (PUFA)—omega-3s are a type of PUFA—was associated with a small decrease in combined ADHD symptoms. But even in this study, the effects were only found for parent ratings and not for ratings supplied by a teacher or clinician.

A Final Word on Vayarin for ADHD

It's important to note that the 2011 omega-3 meta-analysis mentioned above didn't suggest using omega-3 treatment by itself for children with significant ADHD symptoms. Instead, it recommended adding this form of treatment to another ADHD drug.

Therefore, it is questionable whether Vayarin worked on its own or if it would only work in combination with other ADHD therapies. Since the recommendation was a combination approach, it would only make sense that it likely wouldn't provide relief if used as a solo treatment option.

Also, although Vayarin was marketed to look like an FDA-approved prescription drug, complete with a Prescribing Information Sheet, as a medical food, it did not have to be approved by the FDA. So it didn't have to prove its efficacy, unlike prescription ADHD drugs available today.

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