11 Health Benefits Of Omega-3 For Kids

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Heart disease, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, ADHD, skin problems, memory loss, dyslexia, asthma, obesity.

These are just some of the many ailments and disorders that omega-3 fatty acids can either prevent, relieve the symptoms, or aid in treatment of (1).

Yes. That’s how important omega-3 fatty acids are for your child’s general health. They are among the most important good fats that our body requires, but cannot produce on its own, and therefore, must be a part of your diet. MomJunction tells you about the importance of omega-3 for kids, its benefits, and dosage.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), meaning their chemical structure consists of two or more double bonds. They cannot be synthesized by our body, and hence called essential fatty acids.

The Omega-3 acids are of 11 times but the three most important types are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

ALA is mostly found in plant-based foods and oils such as kale, spinach, soybeans, walnuts, canola oil and seeds such as chia, flax and hemp.

People who don’t eat fish do not get enough of the long chain omega-3s – DHA and EPA – because they are largely found in marine oils such as fish oils of krill, mackerel, tuna, and a few other seafoods. However, DHA and EPA can be synthesized in the body through ALA, although to a limited extent.

[ Read: Benefits Of Eating Eggs For Kids ]

How Do Omega-3 Fatty Acids Work?

Omega-3 fats are an essential part of the body’s structural cell membranes. On consumption, the fats get accumulated in the cell tissues and enrich certain parts of the body. Omega-3s play an important role in cell and cell receptor functioning by performing the role of molecules that enable important communication between cells (2).

Omega-6 and omega-3 are a part of the cell membrane. They help in creating a source of energy and act as precursors for bioactive lipid mediators. When consumed as a part of the diet, omega-3 fatty acids compete with omega-6 fats, especially arachidonic acid that synthesizes mediators of inflammation. This means that omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation, while omega-3s prevent it.

Benefits Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

So what is the use of omega-3 fatty acids? Does a child need them? Does a kid need to take fish oil or flaxseed oil to get Omega-3s?

The answer is a resounding yes! The therapeutic properties of omega-3s are many. From skin health to heart problems to joint pains, omega-3s can help you in avoiding several medical conditions. Here are some of the benefits of consuming Omega-3 fatty acids regularly.

  1. Studies have shown that these fats increase the HDL or good cholesterol levels (3) and bring down the triglycerides or fats in the blood. A report has also stated that Inuit Eskimos who consume fish almost every day have more good cholesterol than bad.
  1. Omega-3s support a child’s cognitive development. According to a study, children who were fed foods rich in or fortified with Omega-3s showed better hand-eye coordination, social skills, attention span, and intelligence tests (such as IQ test) scores (4).
  1. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for better vision or eye function.
  1. An Oxford University study revealed that omega-3 in the blood increased a child’s ability to learn and behave better. They were better at reading and had fewer memory related problems.
  1. There is no concrete information on how omega-3s help in treating depression. However, it is known that people who took omega-3 supplements along with antidepressants showed better improvement than those who didn’t take the supplements.
  1. A clinical study revealed that children with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood showed better concentration (5).
  1. Reports suggest that ADHD children usually have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Children with ADHD, who were put on omega-3 supplements, have shown moderate improvement in symptoms including problems in processing emotions and socializing.
  1. Individuals with bipolar disorder who took omega-3 supplements alongside prescription medication had fewer mood swings and a lesser chance of relapsing when compared to those who did not take the supplements.
  1. Preliminary trials of the effects of omega-3 on schizophrenia patients indicated that the presence of fatty acids led to an improvement of symptoms.
  1. Omega-3 is also associated with memory functioning, considering that the fatty acids are most concentrated in the brain region.
  1. People with photodermatitis show more tolerance to sunlight after taking fish oil supplements for a certain period. Some people with psoriasis may also find fish oil useful, while others may not.

While some of the studies have shown entirely positive results of using omega-3 fatty acids, some had mixed results and indicated no change in the condition. However, make your child consume foods or supplements that contain omega-3 fatty acids for their overall well-being.

[ Read: Foods To Boost Kids Brain Power ]

Fish Oil For Kids

Fish oil is extracted from oily fish such as tuna, sardines, herring, anchovies trout, salmon, and mackerel among others. These fish store oil in a cavity of the belly, just under the gut, which is rich in omega-3s.

Can a child take fish oil?

Yes. Fish oil is one of the richest sources of omega-3 and there are many benefits for children.

You could give them foods that contain omega-3 fats such as:

  • Fish, including cod liver, salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, halibut, herring, trout
  • Shrimp
  • Oysters
  • Flaxseeds
  • Walnuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Soy beans

How Much Omega-3 Does A Child Need?

Lower omega-3 levels can make the child susceptible to certain inflammatory conditions or affect their cognitive functioning. Excessive omega-3 can affect the body’s ability to fight bacteria and other microbial pathogens. The right amount of omega-3s for kids, as recommended by the experts, is mentioned below (6).

0 to 12 months0.5 grams per day
1 to 3 years0.7 grams per day
4 to 8 years0.9 grams per day
9 to 13 years1.2 grams per day1 gram per day
14 to 18 years1.6 grams per day1.1 grams per day

Children can be finicky when it comes to eating. They may not like to eat fish or they may be allergic to it. You may also find it difficult to get adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from vegetarian or vegan foods. If so, you may rely on supplements that range from fish oil pills to vegan omega-3 boosters but consult a doctor/ nutritionist before doing that.

[ Read: Nutritious Foods For Kids ]

Whether you give the child fish oil or plant-based omega-3, make sure you are not giving it in excess amounts as it could lead to nausea, digestion issues, and bleeding (rarely). In such cases, check with a doctor.
How do you get omega-3s into your child’s diet? Share your tips with the other parents here.

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Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist and toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different organizations. Her interest in scientific writing... more