We’ve seen the studies and read the headlines telling us that fish oil is good for our overall health.
We know that the omega-3s in fish oil help reduce inflammation, the number one cause of most preventable conditions.
And we definitely understand the importance of only taking high-quality supplements to avoid harmful toxins and pollutions, either found in naturally in the fat deposits of “feeder” fish or in untested fish oils.
So…how does what we know about fish oil apply to children?
Given what is already known about the importance of fish oil health and a proper balance of omega-3s for grown ups, it is clear that a lack of these essential fatty acids can have a dramatic influence on the development of a child.
First, the most important thing to realize is that the effects of fish oil on children are evident well before they’re ever born. Take the role of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) for instance. This component is one of the major omega-3s found in fish oil, and is absolutely essential for the development of a healthy child. I’ll explain…
Beginning with the third trimester a baby’s brain grows rapidly. During this time, baby begins adding 250, 000 neurons every minute! This increase in brain development, what scientists call ‘neurogenesis’, depends on DHA in much the same way as a fuel. Because baby cannot independently create DHA, mom will have to share hers. Unless she is supplementing with fish oil, baby will use up all her reserves, leaving her with a deficit and depriving her of the essential fatty acids necessary for her own health and wellbeing.
Second, omega-3 intake is linked to how long baby is in the oven, or what doctors like to call ‘gestation’. Why is this important? DHA makes up 15-20% of the cerebral cortex and 30- 60% of the retina so it is absolutely necessary for normal development of the fetus and baby. Because the last trimester of pregnancy is a critical period for the accumulation of DHA in the brain and retina, preterm infants are thought to be particularly vulnerable to adverse effects of insufficient DHA on visual and neurological development.
According to a study published in the journal of Epidemiology, results show that women with higher-risk pregnancies can prolong gestation through omega-3 supplementation.
Bear in mind, what mom consumes while pregnant so does baby. Assuming she is supplementing with fish oil, the baby is receiving more benefits than brain food and there’s good scientific literature to suggest these benefits go a long way.
On the one hand, very early deficiencies in DHA and EPA (another important omega-3) may result in lower serotonin levels at critical periods of the child’s brain development3. In fact, findings4 published in the European Journal of Pediatrics say the research is so compelling that omega-3 deficiencies are better thought of in terms of actual risk factors for brain development disorders.
On the other hand, one recent study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that the positive effects from fish oil supplementation during pregnancy can can be seen in the child for up to 3 years of age.
OK, you get it…Fish oil makes better babies. What about better children?
5 Areas Where Fish Oil Makes Better Children:
- ADD & ADHD
- Learning Disabilities
- Autism & Developmental Disorders
- Depression & Mood
- Allergies & Respiratory Problems
ADD & ADHD. There is growing evidence suggesting that Fish Oil Improves Behavior of Children, Improves Concentration and Parent Bonding. In addition, children with ADD/ADHD may have low levels of certain essential fatty acids (including EPA and DHA). In fact, a clinical study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders analyzed nearly 100 boys age 8-18. The researchers found that those with lower levels of omega-3s demonstrated more learning and behavioral problems (such as temper tantrums and sleep disturbances) than boys with normal omega-3 levels.
Learning Disabilities. While this is certainly still a new area of research, scientists believe that omega-3 fatty acids offer a promising complementary approach to standard treatments for learning disabilities like dyslexia and dyspraxia. For example, one small study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that these children experienced improvements in learning skills such as: dark adaptation, motor skills, reading habits, motor-perceptual velocity and general learning.
Autism & Developmental Disorders. The prevalence of autistic spectrum disorders such as autism and Asperger’s syndrome has increased dramatically over the past 10 years and may now affect as many as 6 out of every 1000 children under the age of 5 years. There is compelling evidence suggesting that ASD may involve a fatty acid imbalance in the neuronal membranes, and that supplementing with omega-3s is effective at reducing symptoms.
Depression & Mood. A considerable amount of research has been done on the link between omega-3s and depression/mood disorders. Importantly, evidence from a recent pilot study suggests that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation may have utility in treating children with major depression.
Allergies & Respiratory Problems. Toddlers in the U.S. are have an elevated risk for allergies and respiratory problems. However, research findings suggests that toddlers who consume DHA have fewer allergic and respiratory events. Additionally, researchers have been able to conclude that long-term supplementation with EPA and DHA decreases inflammation and the need for antibiotics in children with certain chronic respiratory conditions like cystic fibrosis. Researchers at the University of Sydney also found that daily supplementation with fish oil capsules alleviated many of the symptoms of cystic fibrosis.
A great deal more could be written about how many children rely on alternative remedies like fish oil. And, as more research pours out, you can be sure to read more about how children need omega-3s just as much (if not more) as adults to. It’s never too late to make your children better!
High levels of depressive symptoms in pregnancy with low omega-3 fatty acid intake from fish.
Randomised controlled trial of effect of fish-oil supplementation on pregnancy duration.
Maternal seafood consumption in pregnancy and neurodevelopmental outcomes in childhood (ALSPAC study): an observational cohort study.
Significance of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) for the development and behaviour of children.
The Impact of Early Nutrition on Incidence of Allergic Manifestations and Common Respiratory Illnesses in Children.
Omega-3/omega-6 fatty acids for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a randomized placebo-controlled trial in children and adolescents.
Dark adaptation, motor skills, docosahexaenoic acid, and dyslexia.
Plasma fatty acid profiles in autism: a case-control study.
Essential fatty acids and phospholipase A2 in autistic spectrum disorders.
Toddler formula supplemented with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) improves DHA status and respiratory health in a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial of US children less than 3 years of age.
Effect of an 8-month treatment with omega-3 fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic) in patients with cystic fibrosis.
Eicosapentaenoic acid modulates neutrophil leukotriene B4 receptor expression in cystic fibrosis.