According to a new study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, higher doses of omega-3 DHA improve early childhood development.
Notice the researchers did not say the supplements were “linked to” early childhood improvements, but instead suggest that improvements are directly caused by DHA-enriched omega-3.
That’s a pretty big deal.
One of the ways scientists are able to move away from making statements about relationships among variables and toward making specific claims is by introducing more control into their study’s design.
The present study was conducted by scientists at the School of Paediatrics and Child Health over at the University of Western Australia. The researchers already knew fish oil was important during early childhood, but wanted to prove it.
To do that, over 400 infants were recruited to participate in the study. After being chosen at random, the children were given either a daily fish oil supplement containing 250mg of DHA + 60mg of EPA, or a placebo containing olive oil for a period of 6 months.
When the children turned 18 months old, they were tested using a variety of assessments designed to measure their brain development and language skills.
The results, according to lead researcher Suzanne Meldrum, indicated that “children in the [fish oil] group had significantly higher percentile ranks of both later developing gestures at 12 and 18 months and the total number of gestures“.
In other words, a statistically significant number of toddlers showed an increase in both the frequency and variety of non-verbal communication. Many parents will recognize these non-verbals as crucial milestones seen just before children begin saying their first words.
As with all scientific studies, these findings need to be replicated before they can be confirmed.
With 1 out of every 5 people in the world suffering from a disease brought on, or made worse, by allergies — pregnant women will want to take note of this study that was recently published in the British Medical Journal because it points to new research suggesting that daily fish oil supplements can decrease infants’ allergies by over 38%.
The study, conducted in Australia, is unique because it publishes findings from a clinical trial involving more than 700 pregnant women with higher than normal risks for passing on allergies to their children. To date, this study is the largest of it’s kind.
What did the study look at?
Researchers were particularly interested in finding out if a daily fish oil supplement would have any effect on the child’s allergy susceptibility during their first year. The women in the experimental group were all given 900mg of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil for a total of 21 weeks (before giving birth). Note: When you see mgs of fish oil, this does not mean you are getting the same mgs of omega-3; you’ll want to check the label facts to see how many mgs of omega-3 your fish oil actually contains.
Because Immunoglobulin E is linked with allergies like eczema and other food sensitivities, that’s what the scientists decided to measure in this study.
Some quick & interesting facts on allergies
Eczema, which is sometimes referred to as atopic dermatitis, is a skin condition characterized by rashes that are quite itchy and leave scaly patches on the surface of the skin. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the actual cause of this condition “is due to a hypersensitivity reaction (similar to an allergy) in the skin, which leads to long-term swelling and redness (inflammation) of the skin”.
Food sensitivities are well-known ‘triggers’ for skin conditions like eczema, and are quite common. Eggs are particularly notorious since they’re listed as number 2 on the FDA’s top 8 food allergens (you can see the other 7 here).
Risks were dramatically reduced when pregnant women took fish oil
After 12 months, children whose mother’s received a daily fish oil supplement were 38% less likely to suffer from eczema. Interestingly, those same children were also 50% less likely to suffer from egg allergies.
While this study is certainly the largest to be conducted on pregnant women, it is not the only one. Indeed, two other significant studies (like this one and this one) also seem to suggest that allergies and certain inflammatory diseases can be prevented before they ever become a problem.
Every mother-to-be worries about postpartum depression. A few have probably even wondered if fish oil could help.
This specific type of depression usually affects women in the first 3 months following the birth of her child. Symptoms are identical to those observed in traditional depression, but can also include a diminished ability for a mother to care for her baby as she would like to. You can read about risk factors & causes here.
For these reasons, it’s not uncommon for pregnant moms to look to the media for guidance.
Yet, it seems as though news reports and scientific research that makes it to mainstream media frequently adds to to this worry and only makes health supplement choices more difficult for the average woman.
One study I recently found offers so much to the field of understanding treatments like omega-3s for depression, that I believe every pregnant mom should know this about fish oil.
In looking at fish oil as a treatment for depression researchers have discovered the ratio and type of omega-3 fatty acids used is key to preventing and reducing symptoms; an important consideration that previous researchers have missed. This is important because depression affects nearly 19 million people worldwide and is difficult to treat.
Researchers have suspected that the distinct omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fish oil may be helpful in treating the disorder, but results to date have been mixed. Until now, researchers believed deficiencies in DHA alone were to blame in individuals suffering with depression.
This belief has fueled studies which suggest an inverse relationship between omega-3 consumption and major depression, while others have concluded certain individuals like pregnant women experienced no benefit at all when taking DHA to prevent or reduce postpartum depression symptoms. Recent findings presented at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology in Miami suggest there’s more to the story, though.
In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reviewing existing data on the subject, an approach known as a meta-analysis, researchers have for the first time discovered that the ratio of DHA and EPA is a crucial factor when evaluating fish oil as a treatment for depression.
“There is now evidence from a number of double-blind studies that suggest mixed DHA/EPA has antidepressant properties, whether by itself or given along with traditional antidepressants,” explained lead researcher Dr. John Davis, Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His findings are in line with much of the existing research on fish oil as a possible treatment for depression, and at the same time help explain some of the more baffling contradictions on the topic.
According to Davis, existing research shows that stand-alone EPA treatment have only minor effects on depression symptoms while stand-alone DHA treatments alone have none at all.
However, his investigations revealed that when the two fatty acids are combined in a treatment formula with a ratio of pure DHA and higher levels of EPA, the results are unmistakable and significant reductions in depression. These are particularly relevant claims given the prevalence and popularity of fish oil products with higher DHA content.
Davis also notes that these findings appear limited to those experiencing depression, as the moods of individuals who were not depressed remained unaffected. The next step for researchers is to replicate these findings with larger populations and then identify the exact dosage guidelines for people suffering from depression.
At this point, it is still unclear whether a DHA/EPA mix can be used to fully replace traditional antidepressants taken by individuals with depression. “Depression is a very serious disorder. If someone is depressed, they should not just buy something off the shelf and rely only on that. They should be evaluated by their mental health professional who can determine the most appropriate course of therapy,” says Edythe London, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles.
This guide was designed to be a definitive guide for parents with children who have ADD, or ADHD type symptoms. If you find yourself short on time, I’ve posted a shorter version of this guide here.
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD occurs in a fairly large subset of school aged children. Over the years, numerous studies and news reports have asked the question “Is your teen’s diet giving them ADHD?“, and continue to explore the possible relationship between ADHD and Polyunsaturated fatty acids, in particular the omega-3s. There are two different types of omega-3s. They are short-chain and long-chain, both of which describe the length of the carbon chain on each acid. The two long- chain fatty acids are Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) which contains 20 carbons, and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) which contains 22 carbons. Together these long- chain fatty acids are the omega-3s that we take fish oil for. This purpose of this guide is to focus on this relationship between omega-3s and ADHD symptoms.
What are the symptoms of ADHD?
While it may be harder to detect in very early childhood, the symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattentiveness characterizing this disorder are often pervasive and cause significant disruptions both at home and in school for many children. Although there is no simple and straightforward test for ADHD, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) has established specific criteria for diagnosing the disorder. These criteria include:
(1) Inattention (at least 6 required from category 1 or 2 for diagnosis)
failure to pay attention to details or carelessness at home or school
inability to remain attentive during play or other tasks
difficulty following instructions
trouble with organization
avoidance of tasks/activities requiring focus
frequently losing things
is distracted easily
difficulty remembering daily tasks
(2) Hyperactivity-Impulsivity (at least 6 required from category 1 or 2 for diagnosis)
fidgeting or squirming
frequently getting up from seat
running or climbing excessively
difficulty playing quietly
answers questions prematurely
inability to wait for his/her turn
frequently interrupts others
In addition, some of these symptoms must be present in early childhood (before the age of 7, but not before the age of 3), must effect the child in multiple settings, and lastly, must cause significant disruptions in social, academic, or work performance
It is estimated that an average of 5% of school aged children suffer from some form of ADHD. Unfortunately, this is not a disorder you can “grow out of”. Instead, many individuals carry the disorder with them into adulthood (DSM-IV-TR).
While ADHD appears to be more common among families with relatives who also have the disorder, a wide variety of external influences such as home life, academic settings, and friends appear to have some impact on the severity of the symptoms as well as the likelihood of another disorder being present (DSM-IV-TR). One of the external influences currently under intense scrutiny is that of omega-3 fatty acids.
Some researchers, like Stevens et al (1996) discovered in a clinical study of nearly 100 boys, 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. In animal studies, low levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to lower the concentration of certain brain chemicals (such as dopamine and serotonin) related to attention and motivation.
One of the reasons ADHD is so difficult to diagnose early in childhood is because very young children are often not expected to endure long periods of self-restraint and attention. As a result, when children enter a formal school setting these attention-deficits and hyperactivity symptoms may seem to appear out of the blue, catching many parents off guard.
Frequently, these symptoms quickly escalate into behaviors that cause significant academic impairments. It is these types of problem-behaviors that cause many parents to feel pressured into experimenting with treatments like stimulants so their children do not fall behind at school. Fortunately, current research suggests fish oil for kids may be a safer alternative parents can try first.
For example, one clinical study led by Richardson & Montgomery (2005) used omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid supplementation in 117 children with DCD (a disorder very closely related to ADHD). The study did not reveal any changes in motor conduct, however significant improvements in reading, spelling, and behavior were seen in the children following the 3 months of therapy.
In another study by Richardson (2006), he concluded that both theoretical and applied research seem to suggest omega-3 plays a part in childhood pervasive developmental disorders such as ADHD. Controlled studies offer a variety of outcomes, however many of these studies do not focus on the same populations and/or treatment details. The one thing that is clear at this point is that ADHD symptoms can be effectively treated in a subset of these children.
Long term studies also seem to yield promising results. For instance, in a placebo-controlled study, 75 children and adolescents (age 8-18) were given an omega-3/6 supplement for 6 months. At the study’s conclusion, Johnson et al (2009) found that fish oil cuts ADHD symptoms by nearly half, as 47% of all participants“responded with meaningful reduction of ADHD symptoms”.
Another clinical study found that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation helped to decrease physical aggression in school children with ADHD. More studies, including comparisons with drug therapies (such as stimulants), should be performed (see review article by Kidd, 2007).
Diet & Nutrition
Research findings suggest that one of the reasons children with ADHD may have low levels of essential fatty acids (including EPA and DHA) in their bodies because they are deficient in the minerals needed to convert them into a useable form (Dufault et al 2009).
While there is certainly anecdotal evidence to support the view that omega-3 fatty acids result in a decrease of ADHD symptoms, randomized control studies have shown that a subset of ADHD children may actually benefit the most from omega-3 supplements. With that said, they can also be the most difficult to give it to! Many parents find that liquids are not ideal because their children have taste buds that are only receptive to the“yummy” food groups, and large capsules are hard to swallow.
I should note here that a high-quality liquid fish oil should never taste “fishy,” however if you have a picky-eater (and aren’t they all?!) they probably will not like it. Lots of brands will flavor the supplements with tastier flavors like lemon or strawberry to hide any off-putting flavor, but this may not be enough. Other creative delivery systems include mixing into yogurt or even oatmeal. Some brands are now also offering gummies, which are much more appealing to children (and even taste good!).
The exact fish oil dosage recommended for treatment of ADHD has not yet been established. However, researchers Sinn & Bryan (2007)found “medium to strong treatment effects of omega 3 fatty acids on symptoms of ADHD” after administering PUFAs on the order of 1 gram for three to six months.
Other researchers (Sorgi et al, 2007) at the Hallowell Center in Sudbury, MA have concluded that high concentrations of EPA/DHA may also be successful with treating ADHD symptoms. In a blind pilot study examining the effects of high-dose EPA and DHA supplementation on nine children, a psychiatrist (unaware of the supplements) noted significant improvements in behavior (inattention, hyperactivity, oppositional/defiant behavior, and conduct disorder)just after eight weeks. The initial dosage was 16.2 g/d. Scientist also noted a significant correlation between the reduction in the AA:EPA ratio and global severity of illness scores.
Apart from trying a more natural alternative to prescription drugs, parents of children with ADHD may find it helpful to encourage physical exertion before asking their children to endure long periods where they’ll need to remain attentive.
Additionally, the National Institutes of Health (2008) offer the following tips:
organized schedules for daily activities
a behavioral system emphasizing positive & negative rewards
family time involving praise & encouragement
joining groups with other families who share similar situations
Adults, too, may find it easier to concentrate and focus for longer periods if they engage in moderate exercise before activities which will require full mental attention.
Aben A, Danckaerts M.Tijdschr Psychiatr. 2010;52(2):89-97.[PubMed]
DSM-IV-TR workgroup. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Dufault, R,Schnoll, R, LeBlanc, B.,Cornett, C.,Patrick, L.,Wallinga, D.,Gilbert, S., Crider, R. Mercury exposure, nutritional deficiencies and metabolic disruptions may affect learning in children. Behavioral and Brain Functions. 2009;5:1744-9081[PubMed]
Kidd PM. Omega-3 DHA and EPA for cognition, behavior, and mood: clinical
findings and structural-functional synergies with cell membrane phospholipids.
Altern Med Rev. 2007 Sep;12(3):207-27. Review. PubMed PMID: 18072818.
Johnson M, Ostlund S, Fransson G, Kadesjo B, Gillberg C. Omega-3/omega-6 fatty acids for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a randomized placebo-controlled trial in children and adolescents. J Atten Disord. 2009;12:394–401. [PubMed]
Richardson AJ, Montgomery P. The Oxford-Durham study: a randomized, controlled
trial of dietary supplementation with fatty acids in children with developmental
coordination disorder. Pediatrics. 2005 May;115(5):1360-6. PubMed PMID: 15867048.
Richardson AJ. Omega-3 fatty acids in ADHD and related neurodevelopmental
disorders. Int Rev Psychiatry. 2006 Apr;18(2):155-72. Review. PubMed PMID:
Sinn N, Bryan J. Effect of supplementation with polyunsaturated fatty acids
and micronutrients on learning and behavior problems associated with child ADHD.
J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2007 Apr;28(2):82-91. PubMed PMID: 17435458.
Sorgi PJ, Hallowell EM, Hutchins HL, Sears B. Effects of an open-label pilot
study with high-dose EPA/DHA concentrates on plasma phospholipids and behavior in
children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Nutr J. 2007 Jul 13;6:16.
PubMed PMID: 17629918; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1971271.
Stevens LJ, Zentall SS, Abate ML, Kuczek T, Burgess JR. Omega-3 fatty acids in
boys with behavior, learning, and health problems. Physiol Behav. 1996
Apr-May;59(4-5):915-20. PubMed PMID: 8778886.
U.S. department of health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. 2008. NIH Publication No. 08-3572.
ADHD is pretty common in school-aged kids. Lots of scientists think there might be some relationship between this condition and an omega-3 deficiency. This is scary stuff! Let’s take a closer look at ADHD and see how diet and nutrition might play a role in developing this condition.
What are the symptoms?
ADHD stands for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. This disorder’s name pretty much describes the symptoms. Kids with ADHD are very hyper and have a hard time controlling themselves or following directions.
There really is no simple test to see if you or your child has ADHD, but doctors will look for a long pattern of problem behaviors that usually cause trouble at school or work.
How Common Is It?
About 5% of school children have ADHD, which means almost 5 million people between 4 and 17 are affected. Most people will not grow out of this disorder, but will continue to have it as adults. Also, it is about 3 times more common in boys than girls.
What Causes It?
No one really knows what causes ADHD, but it’s more common in families of people who also have it. Other things, like school setting and friends might also have something to do with it.
It’s also true that low levels of omega-3s are common in people with ADHD. This doesn’t mean that low omega-3 causes the disorder, it might just be that people who are very hyperactive don’t have the time to choose healthy foods that contain omega-3s. If you’re worried about whether your teen’s diet is giving them ADHD, read more about the diet and ADHD relationship.
What Are Scientists Saying?
Just because ADHD is interfering with your daily activities, you don’t have to immediately start taking scary stimulants. There’s even research to showing fish oil proves more effective than ritalin for ADHD. Studies show that taking a fish oil supplement can help in areas like reading, spelling, and behavior after only three months.
Taking fish oil for a longer period of time is helpful, too. After six months, many children see a huge drop in the problem behaviors associated with ADHD, especially fighting and roughhousing.
More About Diet & Nutrition
Scientists think that kids with ADHD might have lower levels of omega-3 because their bodies are missing an important vitamin needed to get omega-3s from what they eat.
How Much Fish Oil Should You Take For ADHD?
Finding out what fish oil dosage is right for you or your child might seem a little tricky. Studies show that a typical dose can range from one to sixteen grams per day. A good rule of thumb is to start out with 2 grams/day. This is the dose most commonly given on the bottle of fish oil supplements.
After about one month you should start seeing some changes, and might need to increase the daily amount after that.
Other Helpful Tips
If you or your child has ADHD, try doing some exercise or physical activity before you have to sit for a long period of time. Also, get support from other families living with ADHD. You can find testimonials from parents using fish oil for ADHD and Asperger’s, or visit communities online by using forums and popular websites like Facebook and Myspace.
Now you know a little bit more about ADHD and what might cause it. That should get you thinking about what kinds of foods and supplements you’re putting into your body! If you want to read a more detailed guide to ADHD, you can read one of my other posts like A Parent’s Guide to ADHD and Fish Oil Supplements.
For a full version of this article with references to scientific studies, please contact me by e-mail.
A Guide for Using Fish Oil as a Treatment for Autism
The prevalence of autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) such as autism and Asperger’s syndrome (ASP) 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 some evidence that ASD may involve a fatty acid imbalance in the neuronal membranes. This guide will briefly describe ASD and review some of the research on the effects of omega-3s on ASD symptoms.
What is Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD?
Both autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are types of developmental disorders involving the brain1. The exact cause of these disorders have so far eluded scientists and researchers, alike. Generally, the only thing distinguishing people with ASDs from others is their communication, interactions with and behavior towards others and lastly, their different learning styles. These learning styles may range from challenged to highly gifted. Autism is the most popular among ASDs, though others such as Asperger’s and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) also exist. Symptoms may include:
Absence of “pretend” play & pointing at interesting object
Failure to look at object other people point to
Not making eye-contact & wanting to be solitary
Difficulty understanding feelings/emotions
Aversion to cuddling or touching
“Tuning-out” others, but responding to sounds
Interested in others, but not relating to them
Difficulty expressing needs with words
Difficulty adjusting to change
Odd reactions to sensory perceptions (i.e. smell, sound)
Loss of skills previously acquired (i.e. talking)
Are Fish Oil Supplements Important for People with ASD?
To date, there are mixed reviews concerning the importance of using a fish oil supplement for ASDs. On the one hand, there seems to be a growing body of research suggesting an obvious link between the two. While on the other hand, small studies with limited population samples have yielded insufficient evidence.
For starters, docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA), one of the long-chain classifications of omega-3 fatty acids has received the most attention by researchers. Scientific studies2 have shown that “phospholipid fatty acids are major structural components of neuronal cell membranes, which modulate membrane fluidity and hence function”, and furthermore, findings from “clinical and biochemical sources have indicated changes in the metabolism of fatty acids in several psychiatric disorders”. In other words, DHA is important in the production of white matter in the brain and thus is important for the functioning of a healthy brain.
Furthermore, research seems to suggests that there is a direct relationship between lower levels of DHA, and the occurrence of ASDs. A group of Scottish researchers3 have found that a deficiency in EPA and DHA, the main components of fish oil, is clearly linked to ASD. Further support for this claim comes from a study4 with 250 participants (153 with autism and 97 without, aged 2-5). The researchers who led the study noted that DHA in particular was significantly decreased among children with autism.
Additional studies have also suggested that fish oil improves verbal, memory & spelling skills in children. Perhaps more convincingly, according to a U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study5, infants who received formula containing either DHA or DHA and AA scored nearly 6 points higher on tests that measured memory, problem solving, and language.
What Has Been Published?
The plethora of personal success stories involving the use of fish oil supplements for treatment of ASDs has given rise to numerous scientific studies.
In addition to anecdotal evidence that children with autism may benefit from supplementation with fish oils, a recent double-blind, placebo-controlled trial6 provides preliminary evidence of this. Both stereotypy (ritual, repetitive movements) and hyperactivity scores decreased significantly in the group of children treated with fish oil.
A study7 sponsored by Nordic Naturals, a supplement company, found that omega-3 fish oil significantly boosted autistic children’s scores in 8 different areas on language and learning tests.
The article states that, “Investigators also noted the importance of fish oil purity,” and that Nordic Naturals “…is working to set exacting standards for freshness, purity, and taste in omega EFA supplements.” Nordic Naturals is doing just that by having their fish oil independently tested by International Fish Oil Standards, an organization providing third party validation of fish oil in 5 areas:
CRN/WHO Testing Categories
Greater than 60% Omega-3 Concentration
Oxidation less than 75% CRN standard
PCB levels less than 50% of CRN standard
Dioxin levels 50% less than WHO standard
Other researchers are still not sure there is enough data to support the claim that omega-3s are beneficial in the treatment of ASDs. Findings from one review 8 analyzed six small published studies, all with less than 30 participants, and found a combination of mixed results ranging from improvements in areas such as: language and learning skills, parental observations of general health and behavior, a clinician-administered symptom scale, and clinical observations of anxiety. However, do to the limited nature of the studies and small sample size the researchers remained skeptical.
Increasingly, researchers are exploring autism and ASDs as a multi-faceted condition – not just a disorder of fate. To be sure, much more research is still need in this area. Given the wide-ranging health benefits already established for omega-3 supplements, though, it is worth a try as an alternative to harsh chemical treatments.
If you think your child might have some type of developmental delay, or is showing some of the symptoms of ASD, contact the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities at www.nichcy.org/states.htm or call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at 1-800-232-4636. In addition, CDC has links to information for families at www.cdc.gov/actearly. If there is a problem, it is very important to get your child help as soon as possible.
1 Centers For Disease Control: Autism Fact Sheet. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/freematerials.html. Date Accessed: July 9, 2010.
3 Bell JG, MacKinlay EE, Dick JR, MacDonald DJ, Boyle RM, Glen AC. Essential fatty acids and phospholipase A2 in autistic spectrum disorders. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2004 Oct;71(4):201-4. PubMed PMID: 15301788.
4 Wiest MM, German JB, Harvey DJ, Watkins SM, Hertz-Picciotto I. Plasma fatty acid profiles in autism: a case-control study. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2009 Apr;80(4):221-7. PubMed PMID: 19307110.
5 Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, March 2000. http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/fats.html#faintelligence. Date Accessed: July 12, 2010.
6 Amminger GP, Berger GE, Schafer MR, Klier C, Friedrich MH, Feucht M. Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation in children with autism: a double-blind randomized, placebo-controlled pilot study. Biol Psychiatry. 2007 Feb 15;61(4):551-3. Epub 2006 Aug 22. PubMed PMID: 16920077.
7 Patrick L, Salik, R. New Study Shows Benefits for Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome With Essential Fatty Acid Supplementation. Autism-Aspergers Digest. 2004. http://www.npicenter.com/anm/templates/newsARes.aspx?articleid=11454&zoneid=28. Date Accessed: July 12, 2010.
8 Bent S, Bertoglio K, Hendren RL. Omega-3 fatty acids for autistic spectrum disorder: a systematic review. J Autism Dev Disord. 2009 Aug;39(8):1145-54. Epub 2009 Mar 31. Review. PubMed PMID: 19333748; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2710498.
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.
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!