More adults are adding long-chain omega-3s including, EPA, ALA and DHA to their diet. Some studies show that omega-3s offer protection against heart disease and may have other health benefits due to their anti-inflammatory activity. These essential fatty acids cannot be made by the body and must be obtained from dietary sources. Developmental brain function can be supported with long-chain omega-3s like DHA, which is found predominantly in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, halibut, tuna and sardines. There are also good food sources of ALA including walnuts, canola oil, olive oil, soybean oil and flaxseed oil. Omega-3s, especially DHA, may play a critical role in cognitive function and memory.
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While omega-3 fatty acids have been used in adults to improve several cardiovascular risk factors such as to reduce triglycerides, raise levels of good cholesterol and lower blood pressure, the research on children is lacking. While a balanced healthy diet usually provides an adequate supply of vitamins, fats and minerals, some children may need supplementation with omega-3. These include children with poor appetites, erratic eating habits or medical conditions. Some studies have found some benefit for using omega-3s for children and young adults with adolescent depression, autism spectrum disorders, brain injury and treatment-resistant epilepsy, but larger studies are needed.
Unfortunately, many children don’t get enough omega-3s through diet alone. Many kids don’t eat fish or foods containing omega-3s regularly, which their bodies need. Some parents are concerned about mercury and other contaminants in fish and how they might affect a growing child. Supplements offer an alternative for these concerns since some omega-3 supplements such as DHA are derived from algae, not fish. These supplements would not carry the same risk of mercury contamination that fish oil derived supplements may potentially carry. In addition, there are chewable, good-tasting omega-3 supplements that kids would accept.
It’s never too early to give a child the benefits of brain-building omega-3s. A baby’s brain begins to develop while they’re still in the womb and it can be influenced by the level of omega-3s that the mother may or may not have stored. That’s why some obstetricians recommend omega-3 supplements for pregnant women. Brain development continues into childhood and getting omega-3s during this period may enhance a child’s cognitive function and prepare them to best face the learning challenges they’ll encounter once they begin school. It’s theorized that this can be a small step that may yield benefits for the rest of a child’s life.
Omega-3 supplements are safe for most kids but talk to your child’s pediatrician to make sure your child is a good candidate for supplementation and discuss your child’s medical history and current medication regime before giving supplements to your child.
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