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a young boy holding an omega 3 capsule

7 benefits of omega-3 for kids

21 Jun 2022 • 4 min read

Expertly reviewed by Sarah Bushell, Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist

From foetus through to breastfeeding, toddler, teenage years and beyond, omega-3s are critical for growth, brain development, and may even influence behaviour.

So do our children get sufficient omega-3s from their diet? Or should we be supplementing their diets in order to increase their levels? We’ve got all the intel below.

In this article, you’ll find out:

  • What omega-3s are
  • The benefits of omega-3 for kids
  • Children’s omega-3 dosage
  • FAQs
  • Omega-3 sources for kids
  • All about kids’ omega-3 supplements
  • Potential side effects of omega-3

What are omega-3s?

In short, omega-3s are fatty acids, which are vital components of yours and your child’s cell membranes.

They are used in every cell in our bodies are involved in the anti-inflammatory process and most of the fats within our brain is actually omega 3.

The three main omega-3 fatty acids are:

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

Levels of DHA are particularly high in the eyes, brain, and sperm cells.1

The omega-3 benefits for kids

Omega-3s are called essential fatty acids, essential because you and your children cannot produce them on your own. And because we cannot produce them on our own, we need to get them in our diet.

These fatty acids are important for a variety of bodily functions, from IQ, cell growth to muscle activity.2

However, as with most nutrients, while getting enough omega-3s is important to avoid the various symptoms of a deficiency, it does not, therefore, follow that this will increase your child’s brain function and help them do better at school.

Omega-3s are most important in terms of the child’s growth and the development of their central nervous system.

  1. May help concentration

Some research has shown that omega 3 may help children with and without ADHD. In children with ADHD omega 3 may help decrease impulsiveness, hyperactivity and increase their ability to concentrate.

  1. Enhances brain functioning

Omega 3 is also linked to improved learning, planning, memory and brain development in infants and children, according to a study from 2009.4

  1. Improves mood

Research suggests that omega 3 may even prevent depression and low mood in children.

  1. Immune system

Omega-3s are needed for optimal immune function and children who don’t eat fish may benefit from supplementation.

  1. Asthma

Omega-3s could also be linked to reduced symptoms of asthma in asthmatic children.13,14 But also they may offer a protective effect against developing asthma too.

  1. Sleep

Some research has shown that children who have low levels of omega 3 in their blood also were more likely to have problems with sleeping.

When they were given omega 3 supplements, their sleep disturbances reduced.

Therefore, an adequate intake of these fatty acids should be ensured from pregnancy, through to breastfeeding, and then the child’s early years.15

FAQs

How much omega-3 should a child take?

 

Is omega-3 good for my child?

 

At what age can you take omega-3?

 

Does fish oil help children's behaviour?

 

Omega-3 sources for kids

To meet your kids’ daily omega-3 needs, you can consider feeding them more:

Some children will love sardines on toast, or a salmon stir-fry, with soy sauce and noodles.

Other kids may appreciate a good fish pie, or else a salmon risotto or pasta bake.21

Fish and chips are always popular. However, you should know that white fish don’t provide the same levels of omega 3. Neither does tuna unfortunately.

And it’s also worth noting that the deep-frying process of fish and chips means that this dish will have a higher concentration of omega-6 fats, which compete with omega-3s meaning they stop the body from actually using them.

Omega 6 fats are not unhealthy, it’s a question of getting the right balance between the two. You get omega 6 fats in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, meat, poultry and eggs.

Vegetarian omega-3 sources for kids

If your child does not wish to eat fish, then you can obtain omega 3 from plant based sources::

However these replacements contain a type of omega 3 called ALA and the conversion into the useful form of DHA and EPA is actually quite poor.22 Therefore Children who don’t eat oily fish should take an omega 3 supplement to ensure they get the recommended amounts for good health.

Other sources of omega 3

Bizarrely you can get omega 3 enriched hens’ eggs. This is when hens are fed seeds rich in ALA and their bodies convert it into DHA and EPA. Not all eggs are good sources of omega 3, you’ll need to shop around.

Giving kids omega-3 supplements

For a variety of reasons, you might struggle to feed your children oily fish once per week, every week.

These could be dietary choices, cultural reasons, budget, or simply have children who just do not like fish.

If that is the case, you should also consider omega-3 supplements.

Supplements come in chewable capsules of various flavours. They usually contain fish oil or an algal oil which is suitable for vegans. Check your supplement contains the right amounts of DHA and EPA omega-3s.23

Side effects of omega-3

Generally, it is hard to take too many omega-3s, and they are considered safe, with few to no side effects.20

Taking extremely high amounts of fish oil as a supplement could leave an aftertaste or have an impact on the child’s breath by causing a bad smell. It could also cause indigestion, nausea, loose stools, or a rash.21

Can a 12-year-old take fish oil pills?

Yes! Although remember its omega 3 we want and a generic fish oil supplement may not be the right fit. Look for something that’s specifically designed for this age group and ensure that the EPA and DHA dosage is right.

Side effects of omega-3

Generally, Omega-3 is considered safe, with minimal effects.24

Some fish oil supplements can have toxic effects, for example cod liver oil contains vitamin A and you can have too much of a good thing.

Taking extremely high amounts of omega 3 most often results in diarrhoea or loose stools, it’s our body’s way of getting rid of what we don’t need. Your child can also have bad breath indigestion, nausea, or a rash.25

The final say

Omega-3 fatty acids are key for keeping kids healthy, especially with their brain health.

There is better evidence for the health benefits of omega 3 that comes from oily fish than from any other form including supplements, but if your child doesn’t like fish or you don’t eat fish for whatever reason, a supplement is the next best alternative.

Choose one that is age appropriate and contains DHA and EPA in the correct dose whether that acquired from fish or the vegan algal oil form.

If you have any concerns about giving them omega-3 supplements, please speak to your GP and ask for a referral to a Registered Dietitian for personalised advice.

Advice is for information only and should not replace medical /dietetic care. Please consult a dietitian, doctor or healthcare professional

The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Last updated: 21 June 2022

Sources

  1. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer/
  2. https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-q-and-a-omega-3-supplements-for-children-what-does-the-research-show/
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2006/oct/12/healthandwellbeing.health1
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19214053/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5603098/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20130094/  
  7. https://www.nestlenutrition-institute.org/news/article/2018/04/28/evidence-supports-omega-3-supplements-sharper-vision-children-meta-analysis
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19214053/ 
  9. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/circulationaha.114.015176
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22332096/
  11. https://www.futurity.org/prenatal-dha-child-obesity-blood-pressure-1991622-2/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5417803/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11153584
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24605819
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5417803/
  16. https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/do-kids-need-omega-3-fats
  17. https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/do-kids-need-omega-3-fats  
  18. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150515134827.htm
  19. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21961774/
  20. https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/do-kids-need-omega-3-fats
  21. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2006/oct/12/healthandwellbeing.health1
  22. https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/do-kids-need-omega-3-fats
  23. https://www.choice.com.au/babies-and-kids/feeding-children/making-healthy-choices/articles/omega-3-for-children
  24. https://www.choice.com.au/babies-and-kids/feeding-children/making-healthy-choices/articles/omega-3-for-children
  25. https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-q-and-a-omega-3-supplements-for-children-what-does-the-research-show/
 
sarah-bushell

Sarah Almond Bushell

Author

Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist

BSc Hons Nutrition & Dietetics (1999), Diploma in Advanced Dietetic Practice (2006), MPhil Nutrition for children (2015) and SOS Certificated feeding therapist - advanced level (2017 and 2018)

Sarah Almond Bushell is an award-winning Registered Dietitian, ex NHS Consultant child nutritionist of 22 years and founder of The Children’s Nutritionist™ who is working to create a generation of happier, healthier eaters by reduce the stress around food and mealtimes for parents. She is passionate about helping to cut the ties of generational eating habits, fuelled by misinformation and desperation tactics.

Her work has resulted in being asked to consult for brands including Annabel Karmel, Hovis, Heinz Baby, Tommee Tippee, Thermomix and Aptamil. She is a keynote speaker and author having ghostwritten three books for well known personalities as well as writing Love At First Bite, her own weaning book for Thermomix. Sarah has also featured in various magazines and media, helping thousands of parents raise their happy healthy eaters.

In her spare time Sarah can be found in the kitchen, as an ex-baker Sarah enjoys cooking with her teenage children, creating amazing dishes full of flavour for her friends & family.

“Sharing a meal together should be happy, sociable occasions, but for so many families it is fraught with stress, parents anxious that their children are not eating the good stuff on their plates, children anxious that they’re going to be made to eat something they don’t want to. My mission is to help families learn to enjoy eating together, for parents to be reassured, for children to be relaxed, essentially for mealtimes to be a time where happy memories are made.”

Education, Qualifications/Training

  • BSc Hons Nutrition & Dietetics (1999)
  • Diploma in Advanced Dietetic Practice (2006)
  • MPhil Nutrition for children (2015)
  • SOS Certificated feeding therapist - advanced level (2017 and 2018)

Professional Accomplishments

Affiliations/Memberships/Governing bodies

Noteworthy work 

  • Love At First Bite, Vorwerk UK, 2021 
  • Weaning, Annabel Karmel, DK, 2018
  • Baby Led Weaning, Annabel Karmel, Pindock publishing, 2017


Older clinical publications:

  • Poster presentation ‘Self-management of Type 1 Diabetes by a 6 year old child of Profoundly Deaf Parents’. University of Brighton June 2010
  • T Coelho, C Spence, S Almond et al. ‘Self-management of Type 1 Diabetes by a 6 year old child of Profoundly Deaf Parents’ Diabetic Medicine 2009 24 (suppl 1) pp96
  • Professional Consensus Statement on Dietetic Assessment of Children with Special Needs with Faltering Growth June 2007
  • Shaw & Lawson, Clinical Paediatric Dietetics – Chapter 38 Feeding children with Neurodisability. 3rd Edition 2007
  • Peer reviewed document entitled ’Enteral feeding in Children with Severe Cerebral Palsy’ by Christine Carter Former Dietitian at Great Ormond Street Hospital. April 2006
  • Poster presentation of PhD project at European Academy of Childhood Disability Annual conference Nov 2005
  • Stewart L, McKaig N, Dunlop C, Daly H, Almond S. ‘Assessment and monitoring of children with neurodisability on home enteral tube feeding’ Clinical Nutrition Update 2005 vol 10 Issue 1 pp 6-8
  • Presentation entitled ‘Nutrition Screening of Children with Neurodisabilities’ at Nutritional Care of Children’s with Disabilities conference, The Belfry September 2005
  • ‘Challenges in Feeding Children with Neurodisabilities’ Clinical Nutrition, April 2005
  • Presentation of research project at British Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, Watford January 2005
  • Almond S. ‘Nutritional Supplements- Making an informed choices tailored to each patient’ Professional Nurse. 2004 vol 20, No 1, pp 43-46
  • Poster Presentation ‘Design and Validation of a nutrition screening tool for children with physical disabilities and learning difficulties’ at Brighton & Sussex Medical School, Local Research Day December 2003.
     
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