Posted by Dr. Matt Hand on Sep 23, 2022 2:00:00 PM
Our modern diet sets the stage for a fatty acid imbalance, and the same is true for kids. Today, most Americans—regardless of age—are getting too many omega-6 and too few omega-3 fats.
While some healthy sources of omega-6 fatty acids make up part of a balanced diet, low levels of omega-3s are common and linked to various health concerns in children. Without adequate amounts of these essential fatty acids, children can be more prone to problems with focus, concentration, behavioral issues, and mood imbalances.
Maintaining healthy levels of fatty acids with foods is important, but many of the foods richest in omega-3 fats aren’t particularly kid-friendly. Supplements made for kids also tend to have lower doses than what many integrative doctors recommend. With a high-quality product, omega-3 supplements for kids can go a long way in supporting optimal health.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fats are the two predominant polyunsaturated fatty acids. Both are considered essential, which means the body must obtain them from foods and supplements.
Omega-6 fats are mainly found in vegetable oils like canola, corn, and soy. They can also be obtained from nuts, seeds, and poultry. Experts generally agree that an ideal ratio for wellness is 1:1 omega-6 to omega-3. However, this ratio has dramatically shifted, sometimes stretching as high as 20:1. This major imbalance could disrupt normal inflammatory pathways in the body.
The specific components of omega-3, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are critical for supporting phospholipid cell membrane structure, with DHA playing a crucial role in children's neurological development. Many integrative doctors use omega-3 supplements with kids to support healthy brain development, nervous system regulation, and immune health.*
Unfortunately, most omega-3 supplements for children don’t contain nearly enough EPA or DHA to make any significant difference.
Whether your children should supplement with omega-3 fats has a lot to do with their diet, but not everything. Kids with a typical SAD (Standard American Diet) high in processed foods and omega-6s are likely to benefit from an omega-3 supplement. But children who eat a healthy diet can also be deficient, as many omega-3-rich foods aren’t very kid-friendly. Children don’t tend to enjoy foods like sardines and anchovies, and plant sources are often poorly converted from ALA to EPA and DHA. It’s estimated that only 40% of ALA is converted to the more active forms of omega-3s, and many people genetically convert even less. If children aren’t regularly eating fish, supplementation could be necessary.
Supplementing omega-3s for kids has been shown to support learning and improve behavioral issues like impulsiveness, difficulty focusing, memory, and concentration.* It’s also been linked with better respiratory health, sleep, and overall cognitive function.*
Most over-the-counter gummies and other children’s omega-3 supplements are so low that you’d need to consume the entire bottle to get an adequate dose. For example, a recommended dose for children aged two and up is between one and two grams daily, but gummies may provide only 50 mg. Many children’s multivitamins also market their products as if they include omega-3 fats, but the dose is relatively low. The key is choosing a high quality omega-3 children's supplement with high levels of EPA and DHA.
The short answer is yes.
One common concern is whether mercury contamination will interfere with supplements that have a high concentration of fish oil. Fortunately, most products are micro-purified (and labeled as such), and testing has shown no danger of mercury or other heavy metal toxicity. Look for products certified by third-party testing organizations as an assurance of quality.
The most frequent physical discomfort when supplementing with fish oil is digestive upset, which can usually be avoided by taking the supplement with food and choosing liquids over capsules. If your older children are taking capsules, choose a gel enteric coated capsule and store any capsules in the freezer. This will keep them from bursting until after they’ve passed the stomach.
While any new supplement should be discussed with your child’s doctor, omega-3 fats are one of the most common supplements used in the integrative pediatric world. Make sure you choose a product with adequate levels of EPA and DHA (around 1-2 grams) and have your child take the supplement with food to avoid digestive discomfort*.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
 Patterson E, Wall R, Fitzgerald GF, Ross RP, Stanton C. Health implications of high dietary omega-6 polyunsaturated Fatty acids. J Nutr Metab. 2012;2012:539426. doi: 10.1155/2012/539426. Epub 2012 Apr 5. PMID: 22570770; PMCID: PMC3335257.
 Magnus W, Nazir S, Anilkumar AC, et al. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. [Updated 2022 May 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441838/
 Stonehouse W. Does consumption of LC omega-3 PUFA enhance cognitive performance in healthy school-aged children and throughout adulthood? Evidence from clinical trials. Nutrients. 2014 Jul 22;6(7):2730-58. doi: 10.3390/nu6072730. PMID: 25054550; PMCID: PMC4113767.
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