Every so often we hear about a new nutritional trend.
Suddenly, our child needs X, Y or Z to have optimal health.
While trends do exist, it’s also important to decipher between a new “trend” and an evidenced based recommendation.
Why Your Child’s Brain Needs Fish Oil
A child’s brain grows rapidly in the first five years of life, with significant development in the first two years. The human brain is nearly 60% fat and for that reason, the quantity and quality of fat we consume can impact brain development.
More research is supporting the need for essential fatty acids, like those found in fish, for optimal brain development in children.
What Are Fish Oils?
Fish oils are found in fatty fish and contain the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Consuming fish can provide you with omega-3s but many people don’t consume large quantities of fish. For this reason, omega-3 fatty acid supplements are growing in popularity.
Why Are Fish Oils Beneficial For Brain Development?
Fetal brain development and rapid brain growth during the early years are impacted by nutrition. While most of us won’t struggle to get adequate caloric intake, many of us are low in essential fatty acid intake.
Essential fatty acids, especially DHA play a big role in brain development as our brains are 60% fat, as mentioned above.
DHA plays a role in vision development, brain development and maturation, and even immune system function.
DHA is essentially a building block for brain development and function. Our brains are nearly fully grown by 5-6 years of age, meaning our nutrition during this crucial time can impact us for life.
Are Fish Oils Safe In Pregnancy?
Many of us have been warned about the dangers of high mercury seafood. For this reason, it’s not uncommon for a pregnant woman to avoid all or most seafood for the duration of her pregnancy.
The desire to be sure we aren’t consuming any toxins is great. Unfortunately, in not consuming seafood, many of us aren’t consuming enough DHA.
Low mercury fish and seaweed products can be consumed to get DHA. It’s also possible to take a DHA supplement made from low mercury seafood. In fact, many prenatal vitamins now contain DHA to help pregnant women get adequate intake regardless of how much or how little seafood they consume.
Be sure to read Seafood During Pregnancy – Can It Help Your Baby’s Brain? to learn more.
Should My Children And I Take Fish Oil Supplements?
Evidence shows that essential fatty acids are necessary for brain growth. Deciding whether to take a supplement generally comes down to your overall diet, your overall health and talking with your healthcare provider.
Everyone’s diet varies significantly. Some people consume a lot of seafood and therefore a lot of DHA.
However, one study found that even mothers consuming a Mediterranean diet, which tends to be high in seafood, still had low levels of DHA. That study concluded that DHA supplements could be beneficial for breastfeeding mothers and their babies to ensure adequate fatty acid intake.
For children, it seems adequate DHA intake can be a vital part of brain growth. One study found that children whose mothers consumed more than the USDA recommended intake of seafood during pregnancy had increased neuropsychological scores and a lower risk of autism.
If essential fatty acids are the building blocks of the brain, it stands to reason babies and children need adequate EFA in their diet. Children can get DHA while in the womb, through their mother’s breastmilk and through supplements and diet once they’re older.
If you’re considering supplements for your children, it’s always a good idea to discuss this with their healthcare provider or a paediatric nutritionist.
Can We Get Enough Essential Fatty Acids Without Supplements?
There are several ways to consume essential fatty acids. Healthy fats can be found in nuts, seed, seaweed, fish, avocado, coconut, etc.
If you’re very conscious of your diet, it can be possible to get adequate nutrition without adding in supplements. For many people, it’s a challenge to get all of their nutrients without supplements.
If you’re concerned about you or your child’s healthy fat or other nutrient intake, it’s a good idea to meet with a registered dietitian to review your diet and the possible need for supplements.
Nordic Naturals offer a highly rated chewable strawberry children’s DHA supplement made from 100% wild Arctic cod, which you can read about here.