Long been recognized as a supplement with many benefits, omega-3 fatty acids are a good choice for brain health in both adults and children. Fish oil is perhaps the best known – it is an oil that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, in particular eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – both long chain fatty acids. Other sources of omega-3’s are other cold-water fish, shellfish, krill, algae, plant and nut oils, walnuts and flax seeds. Flax seeds are higher in alpha-linolenic acid, which is a short chain fatty acid. While still providing omega-3s, and still being of health benefit, they are less potent than the fatty acids found in seafood products.
Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, are great for the joints and the neurological system. Omega-3 fatty acids can also help with brain repair and healthy brain development. Essentially, our brain cell membranes are make up of lipids – fatty acids are components of the cell membranes themselves. In fact, 8% of the brains weight is comprised of omega-3 fatty acids, they are the building block for 100 billion neurons!
Low levels of EPA and DHA are associated with higher rates of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and even violent/ criminal behaviors. They are also correlated with hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders.
While for most adults a combination of EPA and DHA is optimal, research shows that children have a greater need for DHA for their developing brains. Subsequently, I consider DHA to be one of the key supplements to give children on a daily basis.
A study at Oxford University in England examined 500 children between the ages of seven and nine, looking at their omega-3 fatty acid status. They found that higher levels of omega-3s, especially DHA, were associated with better reading and memory, and fewer behavioral problems among the children. Lower levels of omega-3s were correlated with higher rates of ADHD. The study also reflected that most of the children had sub-optimal levels – 2.45%, where the recommendation for preventing heart disease is 8%. This research also supports the importance of supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, in children.
In my household, I make a protein smoothie every morning for Valentina and I, adding one tablespoon of flax oil to mine and ½ tablespoon to hers. I also add some extra DHA for her, in the form of a strawberry flavored liquid by Nordic Naturals. She doesn’t even know it’s there!!
DHA is so crucial for developing brains. It should be part of a good prenatal – the one I like best does contain an extra DHA supplement within the daily packet. Nursing mothers can supplement themselves with DHA, and then in young children, it can be given via an oil (much better tasting than they used to be!) or a chewable softgel. It’s one of my favorite supplements for children.