If your children struggle to get a good night’s sleep and you feel this affects their school performance, the findings of a recent study published in the Journal of Sleep Research will be of interest to you. Researchers from the UK investigated the link between levels of fatty acids in the blood and sleep in children aged 7 to 9 years, and whether omega-3 supplements might improve sleep among underperforming children. They found that children with lower concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids were much more likely to experience disturbed sleep and when given supplements of these essential fatty acids for 16 weeks, children woke less often during the night and averaged close to an hour extra sleep each night. Although this was a small-scale study and further work is necessary to confirm these initial findings, it provides some further evidence for the possible benefits of omega-3 supplements for children. So what other advantages might your kids gain from taking extra omega-3?
Improved mental performance
The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are an important constituent of our brains and a good supply of these fats are essential to support brain development during pregnancy and in early childhood, supporting brain function and behavior. It’s therefore no surprise that research shows taking omega-3 supplements can benefit academic performance, with a report by KwikMed highlighting that children of elementary school age given fish oils made noticeable improvements in reading, writing and math work. However, if your child has a learning difficulty, they may gain even more by taking a fish oil supplement. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids are common among children with ADHD, and while the results of studies into supplementing the diet with extra omega-3 are mixed, some research has shown an improvement in behavior, which led to enhanced performance at school. Additionally, the Mayo Clinic advises that extra omega-3 may help children with dyslexia to improve their reading and spelling, and children with autism may also benefit.
Better physical health
However, omega-3 doesn’t just help kids’ brain function, but their physical health as well. For instance, if you have a family history of allergy, supplementing your children’s diet with omega-3 from a young age may reduce their risk of allergies, as reported by an article in the Journal of Immunology Research. This may relate to the fact that omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and have a beneficial effect on the immune system, reducing the risk that they will develop a sensitivity to substances that commonly trigger allergies. Similarly, The Journal of the American Medical Association discussed how omega-3 may prevent the over-reaction of the immune system, which can trigger type 1 diabetes in children. It has also been suggested that these anti-inflammatory fatty acids may be useful to treat asthma, which often accompanies allergies, reducing symptoms in both children and adults. However, as a review of the available evidence in the publication BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine points out, further research is needed before this can be officially advised.
Looking beyond childhood, improving omega-3 intake from a young age may also reduce the risk of health problems as an adult, with omega-3 offering a degree of protection against heart disease, depression, joint problems and dementia.
Increasing omega-3 intake
If your kids eat oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and herring, each week, they will receive a useful dose of omega-3s. However, the EPA reminds us that children should avoid king mackerel, shark, swordfish and tilefish, and limit their overall intake of seafood to 12oz weekly to avoid over-exposure to mercury. Alternative sources of omega-3 include grass-fed meat, canola oil and margarine, green leafy vegetables and walnuts; the Cleveland Clinic advises that flax seeds and chia seeds are also a useful addition to the diet for omega-3. Besides that, certain foods have omega-3 added to them, so you may see this on the label of items such as dairy produce, spreads, juice and baked foods. Although in an ideal world your children would get all the omega-3 they need from their diet, foods rich in omega-3 often aren’t popular with children and it can be difficult to know exactly how much they receive each day when relying on food sources. This is why fish oil supplements offer a convenient alternative so you can be sure that your kids get the essential fatty acids they need for good mental and physical health.