Omega-3 for kids: Benefits, Side effects, Dosage
Omega 3 is an essential nutrient that should be included in every child’s diet. It is considered even more important in these young years whilst the brain and eyes are still developing to ensure normal growth and development. This article will discuss in a bit more detail about the benefits of omega 3 for kids.
What are Omega-3s?
Omega 3s are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid and are an essential dietary nutrient. Omega 3 is made up of 3 main types of fatty acids and these are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega 3 is an integral part of cell membranes throughout our bodies, and is even more concentrated in the brain and eyes. Out of the 3 main types of fatty acids DHA is considered the most important. Omega 3s are commonly found in foods like fish and plant based sources like walnuts, flaxseed oil, chia and marine algae.
Can children take Omega-3s?
Yes, children can take Omega-3s. It is recommended by the health authorities worldwide that children should get their daily intake of the essential fatty acid omega 3. This is mainly due to the benefits omega 3 has on brain and eye development in kids. The type of omega 3 source for kids is important as some sources are not recommended, for example certain types of fish with a high heavy metal content. On top of this, the source must fit dietary, religious, cultural and allergen needs.
In the UK, it is recommended by the Department of Health and NHS that children should eat at least two portions of fish a week. If the child is vegan or vegetarian, then to obtain their dietary intake via plant based options like flaxseed oil. It is worth noting that in a vegan and vegetarian diet it is a particular challenge to obtain omega 3 due to the plant based sources only providing ALA. ALA has to be converted into the beneficial forms DHA and EPA and is therefore a less efficient source. It is also recommended that children avoid certain types of fish e.g., swordfish as these can be high in mercury and heavy metals which are poisonous.
Marine algae, also known as algal oil, is a great option for all children but more specifically vegans, vegetarians and those that have a fish allergy. Marine algae provides a high strength, non-fish, plant based source of the most important omega 3s DHA and EPA. This makes algae omega 3 a better option compared with all other plant based sources that only provide ALA. It also has the added benefit of not containing heavy metals like mercury and other toxins. There is also some evidence that fish oil can turn rancid, losing quality and effectiveness.
What Are The Benefits Of Omega-3 For children?
The omega 3 benefits for children are vast and obtaining the recommended daily level is considered paramount for early childhood development. Omega 3 intake should begin in pregnancy, with an increased maternal intake, for the growing foetus as DHA contributes to normal brain & eye development. Then continued into breastfeeding, where the mother should increase her dietary intake to pass on to her new-born child. DHA contributes to normal brain & eye development of the breastfed infant. If the child is not breastfed and using infant formula it is important to choose one with omega 3 or supplement with omega 3 so that the child doesn’t become deficient.
The most researched benefits of omega 3 for children are listed as below:
- Brain and eye development – studies have shown that omega-3s benefit the brain and contribute to improved learning, memory and brain development in children (1). Omega 3s have also shown a key role in visual development resulting in better visual acuity (2).
- May help concentration – a study has shown that omega 3 positively regulates cognitive function and development helping with improved attention in children (3)
- May support immune system – Omega 3s are needed for peak immune performance and children that don’t get enough dietary intake of omega 3 would benefit from supplementing with either fish oil or marine algae (4)
- Can help reduce the symptoms of asthma – studies have shown that children supplementing with omega 3 had decreased symptoms of asthma. (5)
- Can help with children’s sleep – an added benefit of omega 3 in children is that it can promote better sleep, one study in almost 400 children showed that supplementing with DHA for over 4 months led to decreased sleep interruptions and on average to nearly 1 extra hour of sleep per night (5)
- Has shown benefit in autism – studies have shown benefits of supplementing with omega 3 in children with autism and deficiency in omega 3 fatty acids may be linked with autism spectrum disorder (7)
- Has shown benefits in ADHD –many studies has shown omega 3 has helped to improve memory, attention and reduce hyperactivity, which are all often part of ADHD (8)
Recommended Dosage for Omega-3s for kids
The recommended daily intake of long-chain fatty acids for children as per the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) are as below:
3 months to 2 years: 100mg of DHA daily
2 years to 12 years: 250mg of DHA daily
Are There Any Side Effects Of Omega-3s?
Generally, omega 3s are considered safe and don’t have too many side effects. Some of the most common side effects especially with fish based omega 3s are nausea, indigestion and fishy reflux. These side effects can be managed by sticking to the recommended daily intake or switching to a marine algae source. Children with a fish or shellfish allergy should not take fish-based omega 3s. Discuss with a healthcare professional the best source of omega 3 in this case. A suitable alternative could be t a plant based allergen free formula like marine algae based product.
All in all omega 3 is highly beneficial in children and it is pivotal in the early years due to playing an important role in the development and growth stages of children. DHA is the most important form of Omega 3 and it has shown to have many health benefits for children including normal brain and vision development, improved sleep and concentration.