Studies Show Supplementing with Omega-3 Fatty Acids can Improve Children’s Brain Growth, Behavior and Cognitive Functions
Essential fatty acids (EFAs), especially two omega-3 fats ,DHA and EPA found in fatty fish and fish oil are of special importance in fueling healthy brain growth and development, particularly in children. Research and studies have shown promising results with omega-3 supplementation in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
In 2002 the FDA approved supplementation of DHA in infant formulas. DHA is potentially important in fetal and infant neural development, in that DHA acid has been shown to be incorporated into the brain and retinal cell membranes—particularly during the third trimester and early infant life. Clinical research also suggests that fish oil helps to support proper brain function. Fish oil supports the eyes and helps maintain early development of vision.
In 1995, researchers from the Department of Food and Nutrition at Purdue University compared 53 children with ADHD to 43 children without this condition. Those with ADHD had significantly lower concentrations of EPA and DHA essential fatty acids in their blood plasma levels. An earlier study also showed that hyper-active children had lower levels of DHA. Equally important, these researchers found that children with low levels of omega-3 EFAs exhibited a greater number of behavior problems; temper tantrums, sleep problems, and learning problems.
Omega-3 Fish Oil and Brain Development
The role of long-chain omega-3 acids in the cerebral development of the fetus and the child is now well established. Premature babies require special care, as they cannot call on reserve adipose tissue. These reserves generally build up in the last three months of pregnancy and the brain content of the baby increases 3 to 5 times during that period, then it increases again by the same proportion in the first three months of life.
Omega-3 acids are essential to the cerebral developments of unborns and infants, and an unbalanced supply can cause undesirable changes in their visual functions.
Breast-fed children and those receiving milk with added polyunsaturated fatty acids appear to be better at solving problems and learning language, compared with children receiving milk that does not contain polyunsaturated fatty acids (Agostini, Trojan et al. 1995; Willatts, Forsyth et al. 1998).
Omega-3 Fish Oil and Attention Disorders
Children who have difficulties in attending and learning such as dyslexia seem to have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids than others (Burgess, Stevens et al. 2000; Taylor, Higgins at al. 2000).
An English study suggests that an appropriate supplement of omega-3 fatty acids can improve their behavior and cognitive functions. (Richardson, Calvin et al. 2000; Richardson and Ross 2001).
Omega-3 Fish Oil and Hyperactivity
Many children have poor powers of concentration. They are not capable of concentrating on one task, and when they take part in activities, they get bored. They are always looking for something else to do. As they cannot conform to social norms, such children rarely do well in an academic environment.
These behavioral disorders are called attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADD and ADHD affect between 3% and 6% of children.
The exact cause of ADD and ADHD is not known to the scientific and medical community. ADD/ADHD is multidimensional and many factors interact to cause these behavioral symptoms.
Studies on children at nursery school have demonstrated the importance of DHA in the diet for learning (Carlson and Werkman 1996; Werkman and Carlson 1996). Participants exhibited a greater number of behavior problems, temper tantrums, sleep problems, and learning problems than their peers. They also had more health problems. Some researchers believe that children with attention deficits lack sufficients levels of EFA’s.
Of additional interest is a 2003 pilot study by a group of Purdue-based researchers. This looked at the effects of EFA supplementation given to 50 children diagnosed with ADHD who also showed symptoms associated with essential fatty acid deficiency.
At the end of this pilot study, the fish oil group showed substantially increased levels of EPA and DHA essential fatty acids. What’s more, the fish oil group demonstrated significant improvements in oppositional defiant behavior and attention.
In another recent study, British researchers reported similar results with 41 children who had ADHD – related symptoms. Results of this 12-week study showed that the EFA supplementation reduced a wide range of ADHD – related symptoms in these children, including psychosomatic issues, anxiety/shyness, and cognitive problems. No adverse side effects were associated with supplementation.
Conscientious parents try to offset the temptations of "junk" food with its high levels of saturated fats by offering lower fat options and using vegetable oils in salad and cooking. While diets with adequate vegetable oils give the body essential omega-6 fatty acids, they don’t provide the important nutrients found in omega-3 EFAs, which are available primarily in coldwater fish and fish oils, walnuts, and seeds flax, hemp, and pumpkin.