Omega-3 For Kids: Safety, Benefits, Side Effects & Dosage

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Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that promote heart health and are vital for proper growth and development. You can provide enough omega-3 for kids from a well-balanced diet. Omega-3 fatty acids have three types — docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

DHA and EPA are long-chain fatty acids present in marine-based foods, such as oily fish, whereas short-chain omega-3 ALA is present in plant-origin foods, such as flax seeds and chia seeds (1) (2). Regular consumption of omega-3 can avert the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, asthma, stroke, psychological problems, and some types of cancers.

Read on to know about the benefits, right dosage, and healthy food sources of omega-3 for children.

Can Children Take Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Yes, children can take omega-3 fatty acids by incorporating foods rich in these nutrients into their diet. Dietary supplements, such as fish oil supplements, are also available and may be used if diet alone does not provide recommended amounts. You should talk to your pediatrician or a dietician before giving omega-3 fatty acid supplements to your child (3).

What Are The Benefits Of Omega-3 For Children?

There are several therapeutic benefits of omega-3s. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are constituents of the cell membrane. They regulate cell membrane properties such as fluidity, permeability, and flexibility. These fatty acids also play a role in the function of the membrane-bound enzymes and receptors. All body parts are composed of cells, so anything that improves cell function benefits all systems in the body (4).

The regular consumption of omega-3s may provide the following benefits.

  1. Maintain cardiovascular health: Clinical studies have shown that omega-3s have the potential to reduce bad cholesterol and triglycerides in the body and increase high-density lipoproteins (HDL) or good cholesterol. The inclusion of these fatty acids from childhood may reduce the future risk of stroke, heart attack, and blood clots (5).
  1. Improve vision: High concentrations of DHA are found in retinal cell membranes. DHA and other omega-3s are required for normal development of vision. These fatty acids may be involved in the regeneration of the retinal pigment rhodopsin, which helps convert light received by the retina into visual images in the brain. Studies suggest that omega-3 deficiency may cause functional defects of vision (6).
  1. Help brain development: EPA and DHA help conduct important brain functions such as neuronal signal transmission, neural activity, gene expression, and myelination (maturation of some nerve cells where a covering of myelin forms around the axons that allows nerve impulses to travel faster). About 50% of the dry weight of an adult brain is composed of lipids, approximately 35% of which are PUFAs. DHA alone makes up 30% of the gray matter’s phosphoglycerides and is critical for proper nerve growth and brain health. Omega-3 supplementation may be beneficial to reduce the risk of cognitive and behavioral disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and dyslexia in children (7).
  1. Reduce depression: Lower blood levels of omega-3 fats have been found among depressed individuals. Studies state that EPA may be potentially more effective in improving symptoms of major depressive disorder (depressed mood, irritability, fatigue, reduced pleasure, and difficulty concentrating) in children and adolescents (8).
  1. Improve immunity: Omega-3 fatty acids and their metabolites modulate various components of the immune response and show anti-inflammatory activity. This may be beneficial in controlling symptoms of allergic reactions and asthma in children (9).
  1. Reduce photosensitivity: PUFAs, especially EPA, may reduce UV-induced skin inflammation, such as sunburns, and protect against UV radiation-induced immunosuppression, cancer, skin aging, and photosensitivity reactions (10).

What Are The Sources Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids For Children?

Children may get their daily requirement of omega-3 fatty acids from naturally available foods, fortified foods, or an omega-3 fatty acid supplement (11).

  • Fish oils are the major sources of EPA and DHA. They are mostly obtained from cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines.
  • Children may get ALA from various nuts and seeds, such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. Other sources include plant oils such as flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil.
  • Fortified food includes certain brands of yogurt, juices, milk, soy products, and cereals.
  • Children may take dietary supplements, including fish oil, krill oil, cod liver oil, and algae oil, to meet their recommended daily needs for omega-3 fatty acids.

What Is The Recommended Dosage Of Omega-3s In Children?

Below is the age-appropriate dosage of omega-3s for children as recommended by experts (11) (12).

Age

Boys

Girls

1-3 years

0.7 grams/day

0.7 grams/day

4-8 years

0.9 grams/day

0.9 grams/day

9-13 years

1.2 grams/day

1.0 grams/day

14-18 years

1.6 grams/day

1.1 grams/day

Are There Any Side Effects Of Omega-3s?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recommend consuming more than five grams per day of EPA and DHA combined from dietary supplements and food sources. Side effects of omega-3s, even within safe dosage, may occur in some individuals but are usually mild and may include the following (11).

  • Unpleasant fishy aftertaste in mouth
  • Bad breath
  • Stomach upset
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Smelly sweat

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Does omega-3 make children smarter?

Omega-3, especially DHA, plays an important role in brain development in infancy and promoting mental health throughout childhood and even in adulthood (13). Several studies indicate that omega-3 improves brain function, particularly attention, learning, and memory (14) (15). However, no conclusive evidence has been found that omega-3 makes children smarter.

2. Can too much omega-3 be harmful?

Although omega-3 has several benefits, its excess consumption could cause adverse health effects. For instance, excessive omega-3 intake can sometimes alter their immune response and lead to a dysfunctional response to a bacterial or viral infection (16). Excessive omega-3 consumption through diet is technically impossible, but it can happen due to excessive supplement consumption.

There are plenty of options to make your child’s food rich in omega-3s by including fish, seeds, and seed oils. You may provide picky eaters omega-3 supplements after doctor consultation. Provide supplements in the dosage prescribed by the doctor and stop providing them if the doctor suggests it. Dietary sources of omega-3 are usually preferable. Check with your child’s healthcare professional or a registered dietitian to ensure your child gets adequate nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, for overall growth and development.

Key Pointers

  • Omega-3 are essential fatty acids that ensure the overall development of children.
  • Fish oils, different types of seeds, milk, and soy products are some of the foods containing omega-3.
  • Children may safely consume omega-3 after consulting with a doctor about the recommended dosage.
  • Possible side effects of omega-3 are upset stomach, heartburn, nausea, and diarrhea.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Omega-3 fatty acids.
    https://medlineplus.gov/ency/imagepages/19302.htm
  2. Alexis Ceecee Zhang et al.; (2020); Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Eye Health: Opinions and Self-Reported Practice Behaviors of Optometrists in Australia and New Zealand.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7230711/
  3. Francisca Echeverría González et al.; (2017); In time: Importance of omega 3 in children’s nutrition.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5417803/
  4. Essential Fatty Acids.
    https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/other-nutrients/essential-fatty-acids
  5. Omar Sheikh et al.; (2019); Cardiovascular electrophysiologic and hematologic effects of omega-3 fatty acids beyond reducing hypertriglyceridemia: as it pertains to the recently published REDUCE-IT trial.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6591979/
  6. John Paul SanGiovanni and Emily Y Chew; (2005); The role of omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in health and disease of the retina.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15555528/
  7. Joseph. R. Hibbelna and Rachel V. Gowb; (2014); Omega-3 Fatty Acid and Nutrient Deficits in Adverse Neurodevelopment and Childhood Behaviors.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4175558/
  8. Sophie Emery et al.; (2020); Verbal Memory Performance in Depressed Children and Adolescents: Associations with EPA but Not DHA and Depression Severity.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7761519/
  9. Saray Gutiérrez et al.; (2019); Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Immune Cells.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6834330/
  10. Suzanne M. Pilkington et al.; (2011); Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: photoprotective macronutrients.
    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1600-0625.2011.01294.x
  11. Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
    https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer/
  12. Do Kids Need Omega 3 Fats.
    https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/do-kids-need-omega-3-fats
  13. James J. DiNicolantonio and James H. O’Keefe; (2020); The Importance of Marine Omega-3s for Brain Development and the Prevention and Treatment of Behavior Mood and Other Brain Disorders.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7468918/
  14. Welma Stonehouse; (2012); Does Consumption of LC Omega-3 PUFA Enhance Cognitive Performance in Healthy School-Aged Children and throughout Adulthood? Evidence from Clinical Trials.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4113767/
  15. Robert K McNamara et al.; (2009); Docosahexaenoic acid supplementation increases prefrontal cortex activation during sustained attention in healthy boys: a placebo-controlled, dose-ranging, functional magnetic resonance imaging study.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20130094/
  16. Excess omega-3 fatty acids could lead to negative health effects.
    https://today.oregonstate.edu/archives/2013/oct/excess-omega-3-fatty-acids-could-lead-negative-health-effects
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Dr. Joyani Das

Dr. Joyani Das did her post-graduation from Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra and PhD in Pharmacology. Previously, she worked as an associate professor, faculty of Pharmacology, for two years. With her research background in preclinical studies and a zeal for scientific writing, she joined MomJunction as a health writer. Her research work was published in international journals and publications, such... more

Dr. Elna Gibson

(MBChB, MMed, Paeds)
Dr. Elna Gibson is a general pediatrician. She did her MBChB and specialization as a pediatrician in South Africa at the University of Pretoria. She obtained MMed Pediatrics (masters) with distinction in 1993. As a young specialist, Dr. Gibson spent some time in the Netherlands, and then settled in the Vaal Triangle where she has practiced for 25 years. She... more