Omega 3 fatty acid supplements in children
Many have heard that omega 3 fatty acids have benefits for our children’s health, but what are some of those benefits?
What are omega 3 fatty acids:
There are three main types of omega 3 fatty acids. Those are alpha linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is an essential amino acid and is found in plant oils like flax seed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil. When a nutrient is essential that means the body has to take it in from either food or a supplement.
ALA can be converted into DHA and EPA, but in small amounts, which is why it is recommended to also consume sources of DHA and EPA. Fish and other seafood are a good source of DHA and EPA.
For best source of omega 3 fats for kids click here.
What are health benefits of omega 3 fatty acids for children
Pregnancy and infancy
In infants the omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are thought to improve health and brain development when received in adequate amounts during pregnancy and lactation. DHA is present in breastmilk, which is why many commercial infant formulas now contain DHA. It is recommended that pregnant women eat 8-12 ounces of fish per week during pregnancy. It is recommended that the fish be low mercury. Adequate amounts of DHA and EPA during pregnancy has been shown to result in higher birth weights and longer time in the womb.
Many children with ADHD receive omega 3 supplements. In several small studies an improvement in ADHD symptoms has been observed. Studies have shown that these improvements sometimes correlated to a higher amount of EPA present in the supplement. At this point research has not shown that omega 3 supplementation can replace traditional medicine management of ADHD but can be a compliment. Omega 3 supplementation has also been studied in those with other mood disorders, such as depression. There may be some benefit, but more studies are needed.
If your child has been diagnosed with high cholesterol or high triglycerides, it may be suggested that they take an omega 3 supplement containing fish oil. Fish oils have been shown to lower triglycerides, but at this point research does not show fish oil lowers cholesterol. However, studies show that populations with a high fish consumption have a lower risk of heart disease. Therefore, heart health may be improved by eating more fish or taking supplements to provide fish oils. It is recommended that children and adults eat 2 servings of fish per week to encourage heart health. If a family is not eating 2 servings of fish per week then omega 3 fatty acid supplements may be help in reducing cardiovascular risks. If a family chooses to provide omega 3 or fish oil supplement it needs to contain both EPA and DHA.
There is a small amount of evidence that shows the potential that omega- 3 supplementation improve symptoms in those with asthma. However, there is more research needed to make a strong recommendation.
How much omega 3 fatty acids do children need?
A severe deficiency of omega 3 fatty acids is rare and typically will be displayed by dry, itchy skin. Since getting adequate amounts of omega 3 fatty acids can have positive results for brain development and improve heart health it is important to know how much children need.
The following are the recommendations for omega 3 fatty acid intake for children based on age:
Boys, age 9-13 1.2 grams per day
Boys, age 14-18 1.6 grams per day
Girls, age 9-13 1 gram per day
Girls, age 14-18 1.1 grams per day
There are various food sources that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These foods are salmon, shrimp, flax seeds, walnuts, soy beans, and chia seeds. For best sources for children click here.
It is recommended to not receive more than 2 grams per day of omega 3 fats from supplements. Someone using omega 3 supplements for treatment of high triglycerides may take more, but that is under the supervision of a physician.
There are many over the counter supplements that provide omega 3 fats for children. When choosing a supplement make sure it has been evaluated for quality by a third-party laboratory. This will be indicated on the label. Many supplements contain fish oils, which may be inappropriate for those with allergies or vegetarians. There are some omega 3 supplements that use algal oil, which is derived from algae. The supplements derived from algae will have DHA and EPA.
A side effect of omega 3 fatty acids is that they may cause bleeding problems, especially if taken with a blood thinning medication. Always tell your doctor if your child is taking an omega 3 supplement.
I would like to thank Hannah Brown, a dietetics student at Auburn University for helping to do some preliminary research for this post.