Omega-3 fatty acids are substances that have structural and functional significance in the body. They are essential nutrients—human cells cannot make omega-3s on their own and must obtain them from the diet.
Years of research clearly demonstrates the benefits of omega-3-rich regimens, especially among children. Many food groups have high omega-3 fatty acid content, but they may not all be appetizing to picky eaters. Parents may think of giving supplements, but they may have questions about their safety and dosage, or they may be unsure if they work at all.
In this guide, we explain what omega-3 fatty acids are, how good they are for the body and how their health benefits can help children crush their milestones. We also discuss their natural sources, how you can give them to the pickiest eaters at your home, and when to consider giving omega-3 supplements to kids.
First Things First — What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids belong to a class of compounds called "polyunsaturated fatty acids" or PUFAs. These substances have multiple unsaturated bonds, or "double bonds,” that let them remain fluid at normal temperatures—a property that is crucial to cellular function.
Omega-3 fatty acids are named after the omega-3 unsaturated bond. Three omega-3 oils are important to humans: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
DHA is the central nervous system's most abundant omega-3 fatty acid and is critical to early brain and eye (retinal) structural development. Babies primarily get it from breast milk or when they start feeding on omega-3-rich food.
EPA is also present in the central nervous system, but in lesser amounts. It stays less in the brain's fatty membranes because it is more involved in combating inflammation than DHA. EPA is also obtained from human milk and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.
ALA does not have any specific role in the body, but cells can transform it into DHA and EPA.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids That Are Important to Human Growth
Flaxseed oil, chia seeds and walnuts are abundant sources of ALA. On the other hand, DHA and EPA are best obtained from fatty fish. Lactating mothers on omega-3-rich diets have higher amounts of these nutrients in their milk, which is good for exclusively breastfed infants.
Another class of essential nutrients with properties similar to those of omega-3 fatty acids is the omega-6 fatty acid group. In the human body, arachidonic acid (AA) is the most important molecule belonging to this group.
How is this information relevant to your child’s health?
In the body, big protein molecules called "enzymes" accelerate various chemical transformations. Some of them activate PUFAs in the tissues. Enzymes are big enough to engulf PUFAs, but omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids compete for sites within the enzymes. A balance between the two groups is needed for optimum health.
“We need these(Alpha GPC and DHA omegas) in our children. We need these during pregnancy. We need these before pregnancy. Moms who are breast-feeding need to be taking these nutrients. Babies need to be taking these nutrients.”
Dr. Ari Calhoun
What Are the Roles of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in a Child's Body?
Omega-3 fatty acids have crucial functions in a child's body. The most important ones are explained below.
Building Blocks of Cell Membranes
The cell membrane is the barrier that surrounds every cell. It is made mostly of fat, but protein and carbohydrate structures are embedded in it. Some of these embedded structures "swim" sideways within the membranes when cells communicate.
The Brain Cells Interacting at Lightning Speed at the Synapse
In the brain, neuronal communication is a fast process. Children's reflexes, memory retrieval, multiplication skills, emotional regulation and other mental tasks depend on the signaling between different brain cells. Omega-3 fatty acids, mostly DHA, keep the brain cell membranes fluid to ensure that message transmission occurs within a split-second.
DHA starts to build up in the central nervous system, mainly in the gray matter, before birth. This process is critical to cognitive and visual development. Both DHA and EPA continue to deposit in the brain cell membranes throughout life, but enzymes act on them so they can perform other functions. That is why dietary replenishment is so important.
Skeletal and heart muscles also have high omega-3 fatty acid content. Body movement, such as when your kid is returning a tennis serve, entails fast signaling similar to that in the brain. Cell membrane fluidity is crucial in muscular contraction. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids are needed for proper muscle growth.
Reduction of Inflammation
PUFAs play a significant role in inflammatory processes throughout the body. Enzymes turn them into inflammatory molecules called "eicosanoids," which include prostaglandins, thromboxanes and leukotrienes. They are some of the molecules responsible for the following:
Post-injury pain, swelling, warmth and redness
Allergic rashes and cough
Fever during an infection
Omega-3 derivatives have actions different from those of their omega-6 counterparts. The former combat inflammation while the latter promote the process. Both groups of molecules are needed for normal function. However, a higher intake of omega-6 fatty acids, typical of the standard American diet, can make kids susceptible to frequent bouts of inflammation.
In the brain, EPA is more often transformed into an eicosanoid than DHA. However, both inhibit the formation and actions of AA derivatives, helping inflammation resolve quickly after it starts.
Omega-3 fatty acids absorb toxic free radicals, thanks to their unsaturated bonds. They also reduce the formation of two other groups of inflammatory molecules, the interleukins and tumor necrosis factors.
Keeping Bad Cholesterol in Check
Cholesterol plaques are collections of excess cholesterol—another type of fat molecule—and debris that build up in the blood vessels over time. Plaque formation begins as early as childhood, and it can speed up or slow down, depending on one's diet and genetic factors.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), aka "bad cholesterol," is a combination of proteins, cholesterol and saturated and trans fats. The liver produces cholesterol and saturated fats after a high-calorie meal, so they're not essential in the diet. Meanwhile, trans fats come from solid fats like margarine and red meat fat, but they are not needed in the human body.
LDL hastens cholesterol plaque formation, clogs the vessels and reduces blood flow. Plaques trigger inflammation and eventually lead to heart failure, stroke, kidney damage, painful diseases of the limbs and many other disorders. Genetically at-risk individuals can develop these conditions as early as the late teens.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good cholesterol," picks up the excess cholesterol deposited in the blood vessels. Omega-3 fatty acids increase both LDL and HDL but raise HDL to a greater degree. A high HDL-LDL ratio promotes cardiovascular health.
Improvement of Blood Flow
Plaque formation does not just lead to inflammation but also induces blood clotting and blood vessel narrowing. Cholesterol plaque can build up in all body organs, but in young people, the most serious ones can form in the brain, heart, limbs and kidneys. Omega-3 fatty acid derivatives prevent blood clotting and blood vessel narrowing, improving blood flow in plaque-ridden areas of the body.
Kids stay strong and have brighter futures when they have plenty of omega-3 fatty acids aiding in these functions. On the other hand, sticking to the omega-3-deficient standard American diet makes them vulnerable to many childhood illnesses, which can keep them from reaching their full potential. The earlier kids increase their omega-3 fatty acid levels, the sooner they can gain their advantages.
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What Are the Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Kids?
Healthy kids grow up to become intellectually, emotionally and physically resilient adults. Omega-3 fatty acids support children's health, letting them become bold conquerors of life's challenges. Clinical and epidemiological studies prove the beneficial actions of these essential nutrients.
Improved Mental Performance
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to impact various areas of kids’ mental function and development.
Higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids can enhance kids’ cognition. In one study, individuals aged 4-25 who received omega-3 supplements did better in word tests, serial subtractions, color recognition and other cognitive function measures compared to the placebo group. In another, toddlers breastfed by mothers who supplemented with omega-3s during pregnancy and lactation performed better in IQ tests than the placebo group.
Sleep and IQ:
Fish oil supplements were found to improve sleep quality among school-age children. Additionally, sleep quality was shown to directly correlate with IQ.
In one study, 12 weeks of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation improved mood ratings in children and adolescents with diagnosed mood disorders. This supported previous findings of omega-3s being able to reduce depressive symptoms among the young.
A meta-analysis concluded that omega-3 supplements could improve ADHD symptoms, enhancing attention span, behavioral control and school performance among affected kids. ADHD symptoms are attributed to saturated fats, simple sugars, and sodium, which are present in large amounts in the standard American diet.
Adherence to an omega-3-rich diet is consistently linked to academic excellence, physical fitness, psychological balance and high self-esteem among healthy adolescents and pre-adolescents.
Good cognition, emotional intelligence and high self-esteem are some of the clear benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. These qualities help young people build mental momentum, which is critical to achieving and sustaining success in every aspect of life.
Enhanced Cardiovascular Function
The American Heart Association recommends that adults regularly take omega-3 fatty acids for cardiovascular health. Pediatricians have yet to come up with a consensus, but the following studies prove their cardiovascular benefits for younger people:
Omega-3 fatty acid levels inversely correlate with obesity and insulin resistance among school-age children.
In one study, the intake of omega-3 fatty acid supplements led to total blood cholesterol reduction among overweight school-age girls. It also resulted in better blood pressure control among overweight school-age boys.
In a study involving young kids at risk of undernutrition, the intake of omega-3 supplements increased blood flow to the brain, resulting in cognitive enhancement.
What this means is that omega-3 fatty acids can keep the heart and blood vessels healthy for a long time. Adequate intake helps ensure that your child will not be held back by a bad heart before reaching their peak.
Modulation of Inflammatory Responses
Research shows that increasing omega-3 fatty acid intake can reduce the symptoms of chronic inflammatory diseases among pediatric patients.
In a group of school-age children, higher omega-3 fatty acid intake was associated with fewer asthmatic attacks and a lesser need for bronchodilator therapy. Increased omega-6 fatty acid intake was associated with opposing trends.
Various studies show that young women with lupus experience symptomatic improvement with omega-3 fatty acid supplementation.
In a group of pediatric patients with inflammatory bowel disease, the Mediterranean diet, a regimen requiring high seafood intake, was associated with reduced intestinal inflammation.
Preliminary studies show that omega-3 fatty acids may retard the development of some pediatric cancers.
Chronic inflammation wears people out, and its cancer risk is real no matter what age. Omega-3 fatty acids modulate kids’ inflammatory responses, keeping them on track to meet their goals.
Omega-3 fatty acids boost kids' focus, emotional intelligence and cardiac health and normalize their inflammatory responses. They help children effortlessly leap across the finish line instead of huffing and puffing in the middle of the race. If you want to help your kid become a confident and successful adult, increasing their omega-3 intake now will be your best move.
What Dosage of Omega-3 Fatty Acids Is Recommended for Children?
The following table shows the adequate daily intakes of omega-3 oils in the pediatric population, as recommended by the National Institutes of Health (NIH):
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*As total omega-3 fats
**As ALA. About 15-20% of ALA is converted to other omega-3 fatty acids.
***Increases to 1.4 g during pregnancy and 1.3 g during lactation
This table mostly refers to ALA as the primary omega-3 fatty acid source. However, only 15-20% of it is converted to DHA, the brain's predominant fatty component, and EPA, the body's protector from inflammation. Optimum development requires more DHA and EPA than what dietary ALA can produce.
How do you know if your child is taking enough omega-3 fatty acids?
Take note of the foods they eat, look up their omega-3 fatty acid content on the USDA's FoodData Central page and add up the numbers. You may compare them with what the above table recommends as the minimum for their age and gender.
However, optimum growth requires more, and the FDA states that children can have as much as 3.0 g of total daily omega-3s, including DHA and EPA. Additionally, you must make room for illnesses because they also deplete the body's stores of these nutrients. The risk of developing omega-3 fatty acid deficiency should concern you because the condition is damaging to children's health.
The standard American diet includes foods rich in simple sugars, as well as flavor enhancers filled with saturated and trans fats. And when kids look at their friends and people on TV taking pleasure in eating such foods, it's easy to understand why they would be tempted to do the same and pass up on your salmon casserole.
However, these edibles are low on omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acid insufficiency leads to dermatologic problems, poor cardiovascular function, chronic inflammation, behavioral issues, learning difficulties and the inability to concentrate. These complications can impair children's development and wreck their future.
If your kid is on this dangerous path, you might think of forcing them to eat healthy. However, parent-child conflict, even over small matters like food, can traumatize growing kids. Doctor-formulated Cover Three Kids Brain Boost was made to address this problem.
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What Are the Side Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Some of the known side effects of Omega-3 fatty acids are:
Bad odor of the sweat and breath
Digestive problems, because fat intake can irritate the gut
There has also been some concern about omega-3 fatty acids interfering with normal clotting.
Blood clotting is a process that depends on the balance between clotting promoters and suppressors. Blood will clot if the promoters predominate, but it will stay fluid if the suppressors prevail. Blood that is too thick or clots easily can clog the vessels and deprive the cells of oxygen. On the other hand, blood thinning can also rupture blood vessels.
Omega-3 fatty acids are needed to keep this balance. When taken in the recommended amounts, the risk of bleeding is insignificant. Studies among adult cardiac patients taking omega-3 oil supplements are inconclusive at best. Remember that some of them are even taking blood thinners for their condition. In children, one research showed that fish oil supplementation is safe even for high-risk post-surgical patients.
The FDA recommends that the total daily omega-3 fatty acid intake should not exceed 3.0 g, and as much as 2.0 g can come from supplements. However, according to the European Food Safety Authority, the consumption of 5.0 g of combined omega-3 oils daily has not been associated with adverse effects in healthy children or adults.
How Can You Get Your Kids to Take Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Now that you know more about the benefits and safety of omega-3s, your next concern may be about how to give them to picky eaters.
You can get kid-friendly recipes incorporating omega-3-rich foods, such as:
However, we all know that the struggle is harder with some kids. You may try giving them fish oil, but it is known for its funny smell and taste and tendency to cause allergies. Chewable gel capsules are another option, but some kids don't think they're fun.
Last but not the least, you may try doctor-formulated Cover Three Kids Brain Boost. It has that yummy orange taste that kids love. Besides being loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, it is packed with other brain boosters to improve your child's mental and physical performance.
—boosts alertness, memory and focus. It also helps power up muscle movement.
—sharpens memory and focus while keeping the mood up and protecting from inflammation.
—a powerful free radical neutralizer, protecting the brain and body from stress.
—aids brain cell development, body growth and immune function.
—powers up the immune system while enhancing mental focus.
One pack of this delicious smoothie is enough to keep your kids sharp all day. You can give it plain, together with a snack or mixed with ice cream. Not only is it tasty and nutritious, but it is also safe to take every day.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that help build cell membranes, boost mental performance, fight inflammation and ensure cardiovascular health. They are obtained mostly from the diet, and rich sources include fatty fish, nuts, seeds and fortified milk. They are generally safe for children when given at the right amounts.
However, picky eaters and chronically sick kids are at risk of developing omega-3 fatty acid deficiency. Cover Three Kids Brain Boost is a yummy supplement that can ensure that your child is getting enough omega-3s to support their full development. It also has other mental focus boosters that can help them build mental momentum and secure a brighter tomorrow.
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