Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods, such as fish and flaxseed, and in dietary supplements, such as fish oil.
The three main omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
ALA is found mainly in plant oils such as flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils. DHA and EPA are found in fish and other seafood.
ALA is an essential fatty acid, meaning that your body can’t make it, so you must get it from the foods and beverages you consume. Your body can convert some ALA into EPA and then to DHA, but only in very small amounts.
Therefore, getting EPA and DHA from foods (and dietary supplements if you take them) is the only practical way to increase levels of these omega-3 fatty acids in your body.
Recent studies showed that omega-3 fatty acids could benefit health in children.
In one study from King’s College London and elsewhere, researchers found that omega-3 fish oil supplements improve attention among children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but only among those with low levels of omega-3 in their body.
Their results bring a personalized medicine approach to psychiatry by demonstrating that omega-3 only works for some children with ADHD.
The team examined 92 children with ADHD aged 6-18. They were given high doses of the omega-3 fatty acid EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) or a placebo for 12 weeks.
They found that children with the lowest blood levels of EPA showed improvements in focussed attention and vigilance after taking the omega-3 supplements, but these improvements weren’t seen in children with normal or high blood levels of EPA.
The results suggest that fish oil supplements are at least as effective for attention as conventional pharmacological treatments among those children with ADHD who have an omega-3 deficiency.
The researchers caution that parents should consult with medical professionals before opting to give their children omega-3 supplements.
The study was published in the journal Translational Psychiatry and conducted by Dr. Jane Chang et al.
In another study from the Queen Mary University of London, researchers found that a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids in childhood may reduce the risk of asthma, but only in children carrying a common gene variant.
The team measured diet and then followed up with children over many years to see who developed asthma and who didn’t. The data were from a large UK birth cohort, Children of the 90s.
The team analyzed the association between intake of EPA and DHA from fish at 7 years of age and the incidence of new asthma cases at 11-14 years of age.
More than half of the children carried a common variant in the fatty acid desaturase (FADS) gene which is linked to lower levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in the blood.
In these children, the team found a higher dietary intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids was linked to a lower risk of asthma.
The risk was 51% lower, comparing those in the top quartile of long-chain omega-3 intake with those in the bottom quartile.
The study was published in the European Respiratory Journal and conducted by Professor Seif Shaheen et al.
A recent study from UMass Lowell shows that omega-3 supplements could reduce disruptive, even abusive behavior in kids.
Previous research found that omega-3 fatty acids are thought to improve brain health in children and adults.
In the current study, the team examined whether omega 3 helps intervene before anti-social behavior escalates into crime.
They studied hundreds of youths in Pittsburgh and found that the youths with lower resting heart rates were more likely to act out as a form of sensation-seeking, including anti-social behavior.
This can be especially problematic for people living where there are few options for positive forms of stimulation.
The team found giving children omega-3 fatty acid supplements could reduce disruptive behavior, which in turn had a positive effect on their parents.
It could make them less likely to argue with each other and engage in other verbal abuse.
The researchers suggest that a low resting heart rate might be an acquired, adaptive trait. The lower heart rate protects people by blunting reactions to stressful events, but it can also lead to stimulation-seeking behavior.
The study was published in Aggressive Behavior and conducted by Jill Portnoy et al.
In a study from the University of Gothenburg, researchers found that intake of omega-3/-6 fatty acids may help promote schoolchildren’s reading ability.
The team examined a total of 154 schoolchildren aged 9-11. Among them, 122 completed the first 3 months, and 105 completed the whole study (6 months).
The study included two parts, each lasting 3 months. In the first part, the children were randomly assigned to two groups:
One group received capsules with omega-3/-6 fatty acids twice a day, whereas the other group received capsules that contained a placebo twice a day.
In the second part, both groups received capsules with omega-3/-6 fatty acids twice a day.
The researchers found that at 3 months, children who received omega-3/-6 showed better phonological processing and visual analysis than children who received a placebo.
In addition, children with high ADHD scores showed omega-3/-6 benefits in visual analysis, phonological processing, and reading speed.
Adverse effects were rare and mild, with 9 children having stomach pain when taking omega-3/-6 and 2 children having stomach pain when taking a placebo.
The team suggests that 3 months of omega-3/-6 treatment can improve reading ability in schoolchildren. In particular, children with attention problems can benefit from omega-3/-6.
The study was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
Finally, one study from the University of Kansas showed that taking an omega-3 supplement during pregnancy may help protect the child from high blood pressure.
In the study, researchers examined women with low-risk pregnancies between March 2006 and September 2009.
Half of the women took a daily prenatal supplement of 600 milligrams docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and gave half a placebo, not DHA.
The team found that in women who did not take DHA, overweight and obesity linked to higher blood pressure were found in their babies.
However, in the group where mothers got DHA, the babies’ body weight and blood pressure were normal.
The finding suggests pregnant women who take 600 milligrams of DHA can protect their kids from the blood pressure-elevating effects of being overweight in early childhood.
This may be because DHA plays a role in programming cardiac function that preserves normal blood pressure in the case of high postnatal weight gain.
Prenatal DHA intake may help program the developing fetus to be protected against obesity in childhood, which is linked to increased blood pressure.
The researchers suggest that prenatal vitamins, fish oil supplements, and fish meat all contain DHA. Thus it is not hard for pregnant women to get the nutrient.
It is important for women to take action prior to the birth of their kids to optimize their health.
But they warn that although many prenatal supplements in the US contain DHA, most have much less than 600 milligrams.
The research was published in JAMA Network Open and conducted by John Colombo et al.
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