From foetus through to breastfeeding, toddler, teenage years and beyond, omega-3s are critical for growth, brain development, and reducing the risk of asthma.
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
- 7 benefits of omega-3 for kids
- Children’s omega-3 dosage
- 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 your and your child’s cell membranes.
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 (which is why teenage boys need a slightly higher intake than teenage girls).1
7 omega-3 benefits for kids
Omega-3s are a fatty acid that you and your children cannot produce on your own. And because we cannot produce them on our own, we need to get them in our diet somehow.
These fatty acids are important for a variety of bodily functions, from 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.
Kids’ brain health and omega-3
Some children may also consume or take omega-3s to help with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, dyslexia, or dyspraxia.
It is also important to understand that while omega-3s are vital to brain development and functioning, the causes of conditions such as ADHD and autism are various. Some causes are also unknown. It is not sufficient to rely on diet alone.3
But that’s not all. It’s also been linked to increased neural development in infants and children, according to a study from 2009.4
Supports mood and behaviour
Some 16 studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids can be important for memory, attention, learning, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.5
One small study also found that a high dosage of omega-3s daily helped improve attention in children without ADHD.6
What science has established so far is that adults with low levels of omega-3 in their blood are more likely to be depressed and impulsive.
Visual development (specifically the ability to see clearly or sharply)
Did you know that omega-3 may be able to support your kids’ vision?
One study from 2018 found that when mothers and infants were supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids, it had the potential to boost visual acuity (the ability to distinguish shapes).7
In addition to this, a study from 2009 showed that participants who fed their infants with dietary DHA, which is a type of omega-3 fatty acid, had higher scores on tests of visual development in children.8
While studies on children are limited, some evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may decrease the chance of an abnormal heart rhythm.9
As well as this, it has been linked to many aspects of cardiovascular function, mainly reducing inflammation.10
Another potential benefit of omega-3 for kids is its effect on blood pressure.
Specifically studying the use of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on pregnant women, a study from 2009 concluded that those who took the supplements protected their children against increased blood pressure that’s associated with childhood obesity.11
Omega-3s can help protect children against allergies in early childhood.12
This is due to the immune cell distribution that takes place after babies’ have been supplemented with dietary DHA – which mirrors that of breastfed ones.
Omega-3s could also be linked to a lower risk of asthma in children, as well as to decreased sleep interruptions.13,14
Therefore, an adequate intake of these fatty acids should be ensured from pregnancy, through to breastfeeding, and then the child’s early years.15
There are no strict official guidelines as to how much omega-3s children need, but even babies need roughly double the amount that adults need, simply because of all that growing.
One guideline recommends 0.5 grams per day for babies, 0.7 grams for toddlers, 0.9 grams for children aged four to eight years, around a gram for tweens, and 1.6 grams for teenage boys, and 1.1 grams for teenage girls.
So, do kids need omega-3? And is it good for them? As we’ve explained above, omega-3 can be very beneficial for children’s health, so we’d definitely give it the thumbs up for little ones!
Even babies’ can take omega-3 supplements, though this is usually through their mother’s breastmilk instead of typical formats. In gummy or liquid format, usually omega-3 supplements are recommended for toddlers aged 3 and up.
Yes! Although it may be worth picking up some supplements that are specifically designed for this age group to ensure that the dosage is right.
Studies show that omega-3 supplementation may have long-term neurodevelopmental effects that can reduce antisocial and aggressive behaviour problems in children. As well as this, a review of ten different studies found that omega-3 can have a small but significant impact on ADD/ADHD symptoms.
Omega-3 sources for kids
To meet your kids’ daily omega-3 needs, you can consider feeding them more:
- Salmon (fish patties, fish nuggets, and salmon sliders often go down well)
- Canned tuna with water
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 pasta bake with fresh tuna.17
Fish and chips are always popular. However, it is worth noting that deep-fried fish will likely also have a high number of omega-6s, which compete, in a way, with omega-3s for the same enzymes.
Vegetarian omega-3 sources for kids
If your child does not wish to eat fish, then try including these ingredients in their diet:
But these replacements contain ALA omega-3s, of which your children can only convert a small proportion to DHA and EPA omega-3s. These last two types are the ones your children really need.18
Giving kids omega-3 supplements
For a variety of reasons, you might struggle to feed your children various portions of fish per week.
These could be dietary choices, budget, children who just do not like fish, or other reasons.
If that is the case, you could also consider omega-3 supplements.
Supplements come in chewable capsules of various flavours. They usually contain fish oil. Keep an eye out for supplements with high amounts of DHA and EPA omega-3s.19
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
The final say
Omega-3 fatty acids are key for keeping kids healthy, especially with their brain health. Whether you choose to increase sources of omega-3 in their diet or opt for supplements, upping their intake can be simple and straightforward.
For more in-depth support, you can speak directly with qualified children’s health experts through a one-to-one video consultation for personalised and private advice.
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 April 2022