Brain Awareness Week: Omega 3 for Children
March 11-15 is Brain Awareness Week. So, I thought I would take this opportunity to look at natural ways to support brain health – starting with Omega 3 for children.
Childhood is a major period of brain growth and development: The period from birth to two years is a primary growth phase, with additional spurts of development at around two years, between seven and nine years, and then again during mid-adolescence.
WHY OMEGA 3 IS NEEDED:
There has been much publicity about the potential benefits of omega 3 for this development. There are many different forms of omega 3; in the case of the brain, it is thought that DHA specifically is vital.
DHA has been identified as being important for the development of the brain and normal brain function. Indeed, DHA rich brain cells are said to be responsible for planning, problem solving and focused attention; it has therefore been suggested that supplementing with omega 3 could help to improve performance in the classroom and a child’s ability to concentrate.
ARE OMEGA 3 SUPPLEMENTS WORTH IT?
A key study into the benefits of supplementing children with DHA was carried out in Oxfordshire primary schools. It investigated the impact of DHA supplementation on reading ability and behaviour, in primary school children aged six to ten years. The study involved 362 children from 74 different schools. The children were split into two groups: half were provided with a daily DHA supplement, whilst the other half were given a dummy pill. No one knew whether they had been given the real pill or the fake one. The results from each group were then compared.
The results from the children in the DHA group were astounding, with reading ability improving rapidly. Some children showed an improvement in reading age of over one year, and it was the children who had struggled the most beforehand who saw the biggest improvements. Behaviour improvements were also noted by both parents and teachers. By comparison, the children taking the dummy pills noted little unexpected change over the period of the research.
It was the results of this study, and others that followed it, which lead to an increased interest in omega 3 supplements for children - and are the reason why some foods are enriched with ‘added omega 3’.
The important thing to note, though, is that it is specifically DHA omega 3 which is required by the brain. The body is unable to manufacture DHA, so we need to make sure it is provided by our diet: The best food sources are oily fish - like salmon, trout and sardines – not many children’s first choice!
OMEGA 3 FORTIFICATION
This is why food companies started to add omega 3 to popular foods, such as fish fingers, yoghurt and even orange juice. The problem is that (apart from in fish fingers), it is not possible to fortify these foods with fish sourced omega 3 – to understand why, just imagine the taste when combined with orange juice! So, many manufacturers use vegetable sourced omega 3 – which can be a problem.
It’s not easy for the brain to get DHA from plant sourced omega 3. This was proven in a study carried out in Australia, which looked at the effect of replacing standard eggs, milk and yogurt with omega 3 enriched versions in children. The study showed that, although the omega 3 levels of these children did improve slightly, the levels of DHA in their blood was still not adequate.
SO, WHAT CAN WE DO?
Realistically then, to support a child’s brain, we have two options:
1. Ensure that they eat oily fish at least twice every week (not possible in the case of my own daughter!)
2. Use a DHA rich supplement. I have given my daughter one form of DHA or another for much of her life – although I have to inform you that there are some drawbacks with this, she is quick thinking, sharp and has an answer for everything!
Later this week, I’ll be looking at natural ways to boost brain function and mental performance in adults. Keep a look out if you suffer from that all too common brain fog!
Written by Jenny Logan DNMed (Jenny is a nutritional therapist who has worked with clients in health food stores and private clinics for over 20 years).