Child Development

Omega-3s: Children and Teens

  • Omega-3s are important for physical and healthy mood balance in children and teens.
  • EPA and DHA omega-3 can benefit children with learning and attention deficits.
  • Children and teens benefit from regular consumption of marine-source omega-3s.

OMEGA-3S ARE IMPORTANT FOR PHYSICAL AND HEALTHY MOOD BALANCE IN CHILDREN AND TEENS.

Between the grade school and high school years, your child’s body will, on average, triple in size. This physical growth—muscles, circulatory system, and organs (e.g., heart, kidneys, liver)—requires essential fatty acids, in particular EPA and DHA omega-3. The growing skeleton and developing hormones during puberty also need these special fats.  Omega-3s are essential to the human body and because we can’t make them, we must consume them through diet and/or supplements.

Proven to be important for good mental health in adults, research shows that sufficient intake of EPA and DHA omega-3 can also support healthy mood balance in teens [1][2].

Dietary essential fats, such as EPA and DHA omega-3 and ARA omega-6, are also crucial for proper brain health. They are involved with many aspects of healthy brain function, including learning, behavior, and cognition[3][4][5]. While both omega-6 and omega-3 fats are important, most Americans consume an abundant amount of omega-6 fats through foods (e.g., processed and refined foods, soybean oil) and under-consume omega-3s, especially EPA and DHA.

Minimum Daily Recommended Intake of EPA and DHA Combined
Children 250 – 500 mg per day*
Teens 250 -500 mg per day*

*This amount can be consumed by eating fatty fish, such as wild salmon or sardines, two or more times a week. Nutritional experts recommend that adults and children consume two or more servings of fatty fish per week [14],[15].

EPA AND DHA OMEGA-3 CAN BENEFIT CHILDREN WITH LEARNING AND ATTENTION DEFICITS.

Researchers have been investigating the benefits of supplementing essential fats for children with attention deficits, including ADHD and dyslexia. They have identified important links between dietary intake of omega-3 and cognitive activity of the brain, and the majority of studies have reported benefit in at least one aspect of child learning and behavior [4-7].

For example, studies have reported improvements in reading and handwriting, focus and attention, better reasoning, and short-term memory. Also reported have been fewer incidents of oppositional defiant behavior, impulsivity, anxiety, and less hyperactivity in boys and less aggression in girls [7-12].

And research shows that children with low levels of omega-3s have more behavior problems, temper tantrums, sleep problems, and learning problems than their peers. Children with ADHD and dyslexia have low blood levels of omega-3, and supplementing children with EPA and DHA improves blood levels with few, if any side effects[4][5][6][13].

Note: Some studies with children have reported inconsistent results, perhaps because studying children’s behavior and their diets is very complex, requiring rigid testing methods, exacting assessments, and help from busy teachers and parents.

CHILDREN AND TEENS BENEFIT FROM REGULAR CONSUMPTION OF MARINE-SOURCE OMEGA-3S.

Eating habits are formed in childhood. Regular consumption of marine-source omega-3s (EPA and DHA) have lifelong health benefits and is easier to achieve than many people think. In addition to including fresh or frozen salmon in the diet, incorporating canned fish into sandwiches, casseroles, soups, and salads is simple and cost-effective. Purified and concentrated fish oil capsules or liquids are a convenient way to supplement; small (mini) capsules may be easier for children to swallow, and flavored liquids can be added to yogurt and smoothies or taken on a spoon.

Always refrigerate liquid fish oils after opening, and fish oil supplements are best taken with a meal. See the table for minimum intake recommendations.

By Gretchen Vannice, MS, RDN ©  All rights reserved

About the author: Gretchen Vannice is a registered dietician nutritionist and independent consultant who specialises in omega-3 fatty acids and natural foods. She is a strategist, trainer, speaker, and author. Gretchen is lead author of the 2014 Position Paper on Healthy Dietary Fats for Adults, written for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and author of Live Long and Thrive with Omega-3s. A consumer’s guide to fish, fish oil, nuts, and seeds. She can be reached at www.omega3handbook.com.

Disclaimer:  Written by an independent nutritional expert, this information is provided for educational purposes only.

It is not intended as medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider for medical advice.

REFERENCES

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[2]Bondi CO, Taha AY, et al. Adolescent behavior and dopamine availability are uniquely sensitive to dietary omega-3 fatty acid deficiency. Biol Psych 2013. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.06.007
[3] Crawford MA. Essential fatty acids and neurodevelopmental disorder. In: NG Bazan, ed. Neurobiology of essential fatty acids. New York: Plenum Press, 1992; 307-314.
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[9] Richardson AJ, Burton JR, et al. Docosahexaenoic acid for reading, cognition and behavior in children aged 7–9 years: A randomized, controlled trial (the DOLAB Study). PLoS One 2012, 7, e43909.
[10] Muthayya S, Eilander A, et al. Effect of fortification with multiple micronutrients and n-3 fatty acids on growth and cognitive performance in Indian schoolchildren: The CHAMPION (Children‘s Health and Mental Performance Influenced by Optimal Nutrition) Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2009, 89, 1766-1775.
[11] Kirby A, Woodward A, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study investigating the effects of omega-3 supplementation in children aged 8–10 years from a mainstream school population. Res Dev Disabil 2010, 31, 718-730.
[12] Itomura M, Hamazaki K. et al. The effect of fish oil on physical aggression in schoolchildren: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Nutr Biochem 2005, 16, 163-171.
[13] Mitchell EA, Aman MG, Turbott SH, Manku M. Clinical characteristics and serum fatty acid levels in hyperactive children. Clin Pediatr 1987;26(8):406-411.
[14] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Fats and fatty acids in human nutrition: Report of an expert consultation. FAO Food Nutr Pap 2010;91:1-166.
[15] Uauy R, Dangour A. Fat and fatty acid requirements and recommendations for infants of 0-2 years and children of 2-18 years. Ann Nutr Metabolism 2009;55:76-96.