Omega 3 and kids

Much has been written about the effects of fish oils and omega 3 fatty acids on the developing brain of children during pregnancy and the first years of life. Research has shown that these essential oils can particularly have a beneficial effect on children with attention deficit disorders but for many parents there is some confusion about the exact benefits, how to ensure the omega 3 is included in their child’s diet and when a fish oil supplement is necessary.

What is Omega 3 fatty acid?

Omega 3 fatty acid – also referred to as oil – is a type of polyunsaturated fat and is one of the essential fatty acids that are so important for healthy development. Omega 3 is integral in the development of our eyes and the parts of the brain that are used for learning, reasoning and memory.

As our bodies are unable to make omega 3 fatty acids (with the exception of breast milk), it is vital to the development of our brain that we consume omega 3 fatty acids in our diet.

  • A deficiency of omega3 fatty acids may cause problems with learning, memory, vision and behaviour.
  • A supplement of omega 3 may improve attention, brain function and self control in children who don’t receive enough omega 3 in their daily diet.
  • Taking supplements of omega 3 fatty acids can improve reading, spelling and behaviour in children who don’t get enough omega 3 in their daily diet.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect and may be helpful with inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema.

What are the best sources of omega 3 fatty acids?

The best sources of omega 3 fatty acids are oily fish, some seeds and nuts, and vegetable oils. These include:

Oily fish

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Trout
  • Mackerel
  • Anchovies
  • Sardines

Seeds and nuts

  • Flax seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Pumpkin seeds

Vegetable oils

  • Canola oil
  • Flax oil – uncooked

Other good sources of omega 3 include:

  • Omega eggs – these are eggs from hens who have been fed an omega 3-rich diet
  • Grass fed cattle – most beef is a poor source of omega 3 but beef which has come from grass-fed cattle is higher in the essential fatty acid
  • Processed products with added omega 3 fatty acids – these can include mayonnaise and margarine

How much omega 3 does my child need?

Currently there is no recommended daily intake of omega 3 fatty acids, though continued research into the effects of omega 3 is resulting in a move amongst doctors towards the introduction of a recommended daily dose. In the UK, a daily recommended intake of omega 3 fatty acids has been set and it has resulted in the recommendation that we include at least two portions of fish in our diet each week – with one portion being from an oily fish such as those listed above. This intake does not differentiate between adults and children.

Should my child take an omega 3 supplement?

The vast majority of children do not routinely have enough fish in their diets (at least two fish meals a week) to receive the necessary fatty acids fish provide. For that reason, may parents now choose to supplement their children’s diet with an omega 3 supplement.

Omega 3 supplements for adults and children supply the same essential fatty acids – it is usually only the dosage and the preparation that varies. There are a range of brands of omega 3/ fish oil supplements for children on the market now that come in gel capsules, chews and sprinkles to accommodate your child’s ability to take the supplement – as young children often have difficulty swallowing tablets, they may find the chews and sprinkles an easier way to take omega 3.

Because omega 3 and fish oil supplements can be widely varying, if you do choose to give your child an omega 3 supplement, look out for a brand that includes high levels of EPA and DHA – the essential fatty acids in omega 3. Also be sure to choose ‘pharmaceutical grade’ fish oils and try to pick a brand that ensures that the fish oils are mercury free.

Omega 3 and ADHD

Research has shown that omega 3 fatty acid, along with other essential polyunsaturated fatty acids, is important during the growing years (up to 18 years old) for intellectual development. A lack of these essential fatty acids can have a negative impact on a child’s IQ, school abilities and academic performance.

Research shows that:

  • Children with behavioural problems such as ADHD often show the signs of low omega 3 levels – dry hair and skin, excessive thirst.
  • There is now some evidence that shows that by increasing the amount of omega 3 in the diet, some of these children can reduce the severity of attention and behaviour problems.
  • Omega 3 has shown to have a positive impact on some children who experience reading difficulties.


The positive effects of additional omega 3 in the diets of children who have no learning or behavioural problems, has not been shown. It is not known if additional omega 3 in these children has any beneficial effects.

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