What’s the hype around Omega-3’s?
Omega-3’s are fatty acids that support fetal/cognitive development, heart health, and learning, amongst a host of other benefits. Omega-3’s are called essential fatty acids because our bodies don’t produce them naturally- these acids are made up of:
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA)
ALA is the most common Omega-3 found in plant oils which children can convert to DHA and EPA. However, this process is very inefficient. Only 1 – 10% of ALA is converted to EPA and only 0.5 – 5% for DHA. Keep in mind that you only need DHA/EPA supplements if your child does not eat a varied and balanced diet including fatty fish, nuts, seeds, or plant oils.
ALA Intake Guidelines (by the National Institute of Health)
- 0 – 12 months: 0.5 grams
- 1 – 3 years: 0.7 grams
- 4 – 8 years: 0.9 grams
Significance of Omega-3’s
Enhance cognitive and neurological development
DHA intake impacts cognitive and neurological development. Researchers found that it is not only important for fetal development (as DHA levels rise during pregnancy), but also associated with reduced learning and behavioral difficulties.
Increase sleep efficiency
Over 1 in 25 children have trouble with sleep disruptions. Interestingly, children who supplemented 600mg of DHA per day experienced reduced sleep interruptions and slept an hour longer on average.
Improved learning abilities
Studies showed that after 6 months of supplementation, children saw improvements in memory, learning, and verbal ability. Children also demonstrated better control of impulses, attention, and hyperactivity.
Prevent neurodegenerative diseases
Omega-3 supplementation can also help prevent neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Researchers found that higher DHA:EPA ratios (2:1 vs. 1:1) was more effective in reducing cell degeneration over time.
If you decide to supplement DHA/EPA
Although there aren’t any guidelines for DHA and EPA, a balanced diet with foods rich in Omega-3’s is a great way to ensure your child is meeting their daily needs. If you do decide to supplement, make sure to contact your local healthcare provider for dosing guidance.