While the positive effects that omega-3 fatty acids have on the health of adults have been routinely documented and promoted, researchers are only beginning to scratch the surface on the health implications this essential nutrient can have on children.
There has been recent research published on the effects omega-3 fatty acids have on children with ADHD, aggression and immune health.
As infants, DHA plays an important role in the development of the brain, eyes, and nervous system. This isn’t too surprising, since the retina of the eye consists largely of fatty tissue, and DHA makes up 20 to 30 percent of the brain. As toddlers, EPA and DHA can help improve their vision and cognitive and behavioral development. Once your children start elementary school, DHA remains a key component to their success, as it supports their memory, focus, and cognitive development.
A new report, published in the August issue of Clinical & Experimental Allergy, suggests a correlation between omega-3s in children and the possible prevention of certain allergies both in infancy and as children age.
Over the course of six months, researchers provided fish oil supplementation (280mg of DHA and 110mg of EPA) to hundreds of infants up to six months of age “[t]o examine the effect [of fish oil supplementation] on infant cellular immune function … in the context of allergic disease.”
Researchers found that those infants who were given fish oil supplementation experienced decreased allergic responses to allergens such as dust mites and milk protein. Researchers followed up with these infants six months later, and also found these children to have a lower association with eczema symptoms.
Our observations support a biologically plausible relationship…with growing evidence that optimizing [omega-3] status during early life may have a favourable effect on immune patterns and allergy development. [Our study] suggest that the simple step of supplementation with EPA and DHA in infancy may result in increased quality of life, not to mention decreased health care costs, for those afflicted with allergic condition.
A similar study examined infants at one, three and six months of age that showed signs of illness, ranging from congestion to rashes. At each interval, children whose mothers took DHA supplementation showed fewer instances of illness. At the six-month mark, researchers found staggering numbers:
- 20 percent shorter duration of fever
- 54 percent shorter duration of difficulty breathing
- 23 percent shorter duration of rashes
Through continued research, the need to supplement our diets – and those of our children – with omega-3 fatty acids are becoming clear. Older children – those two years and older – have the ability to each more robust diets or, for those who have food allergies and/or are picky eaters, the options for supplementation are available.
For infants, the easiest – and safest – way to provide omega-3s is through breastfeeding; the study specifically emphasized the need for pregnant women to eat diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids and while breast feeding. Under the care of a health professional, pregnant and breast-feeding women can also look at utilizing fish oil supplements.