NPF Science Update: Fish Oil
Posted Thursday, October 13, 2011

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Fish Oils and Children's Health
By Jolie Root, LPN, LNC

Parents looking for surefire ways to boost their kids’ brain power, improve behavior and set the foundation for lifelong heart health need to go fish – for fish oil supplements, that is.

Fish oils provide the longer chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). DHA is the most abundant long chain fatty acid in brain and retinal cells, and getting off to a good start in life with a high level of DHA has been linked to better eyesight, better learning ability and improved behavioral development.

In one study, infants given DHA supplemented formula for the first 6 months of life had significantly higher IQ scores at age 4 when compared to unsupplemented infants. In another recent University of Texas study, healthy formula-fed infants received either DHA formula or unsupplemented formula until age 12 months. At age 18 months the DHA group had superior mental development and language scores compared to the unsupplemented babies.

Studies show that children with ADHD typically have significantly lower concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids. At Oxford University in the UK, Dr. Alexandra Richardson found children with dyslexia and ADHD tendencies experienced improved concentration, decreased anxiety and a reduction in disruptive behavior after three months of fish oils.

In one of Dr. Richardson’s trials, children with oppositional defiant behavior and attention deficit, who often have difficulty reading, had significant improvement in their behaviors and their reading and spelling scores after 15 weeks of EPA supplementation. Her approach used 170 mg of DHA plus 558 mg of EPA.

Japanese researchers found that when using a higher omega-3 dose with 514 mg of DHA plus 100 mg of EPA daily for 60 days in children aged 6-12 years, the children who got the treatment demonstrated a significant reduction in aggressive behavior compared to the control group.

There are more reasons for boosting a child’s intake of DHA and EPA. Toddlers with higher levels of DHA have fewer respiratory infections, less tendency toward allergies and less eczema.

Finally, consider the heart health benefits of EPA and DHA. Having an omega index of 8% or better, determined by an “Omega Index” blood test, is linked to a 90% reduction in heart disease incidence. In a child that level would require an intake of about 500 mg of combined EPA and DHA daily.

Story Source: The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by Natural Products Foundation staff) from materials provided by Jolie Root, LPN, LNC. 

References: Drover JR, Hoffman DR, Castañeda YS, Morale SE, Garfield S, Wheaton DH, Birch EE. Cognitive function in 18-month-old term infants of the DIAMOND study: a randomized, controlled clinical trial with multiple dietary levels of docosahexaenoic acid. Early Hum Dev 201;87:223-230.

Richardson, A. J., and Montgomery, P. The Oxford-Durham Study: A randomized, controlled trial of dietary supplementation with fatty acids in children with developmental coordination disorder. Pediatrics. 115(5): 1360-1366, 2005.

Hirayama, S., et al . Effect of docosahexaenoic acid-containing food administration on symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder - a placebo-controlled double-blind study. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 58: 467-473, 2004.


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