I remember when I was a small child, I used to have gummy Vitamin C tablets every day. That orange vitamin, alongside my 3 square meals, plenty of water and an apple at break time, was the fuel that kept my curious motor running. I ran and cycled all over, paddled in babbling brooks and scraped my knees climbing trees. It never would have occurred to anyone that I might have a deficiency in anything.
Looking back on it now, I almost certainly wasn’t getting enough omega-3. I rarely ate fish, and it wasn’t something that I was being given as a supplement - although maybe I should have been. I certainly take it now, as an adult. We have shown in the past that omega-3 fatty acids are at the very centre of our health. They’re essential for foetal development and for development and growth in children, especially when it comes to brain and eye health.
With omega-3 fatty acids being available in oily fish and in some plant-based foods, there is the question of whether children can, or should, be taking omega-3 supplements. In this guide, we will look at the benefits of giving children omega-3 supplements, if there are any side effects which you might need to watch out for, and how much your child might need.
Can kids take omega 3 supplements?
The short answer is, yes. Omega-3 plays a huge part in child development, healthy growth and a plethora of other benefits (Newberry et al., 2016). The benefits of omega-3 begin even before your child is born, as it is vital for foetal development, promoting healthy growth and optimal birth weight.
You can look into the different types of omega-3 fatty acids and the different roles they play in this guide, but in the meantime, let’s look at the ways in which they can benefit the health of your children.
May help to promote brain health: The majority of a child’s brain growth occurs between birth and 2 years of age. This means that most of its weight is developed during this period, with development continuing throughout childhood and into adolescence. DHA, in particular, can help to support brain growth and function as it makes up 40% of our grey matter (Kuratko et al., 2013).
May help to reduce allergies and asthma: There is the potential that omega-3 can reduce the development of allergies and skin conditions in children, including eczema (Magnusson et al., 2013). Studies have also shown a likely link between omega-3 intake and a reduced likelihood of asthma in children (Yang, Xun and He, 2013). However, this has also been shown to need wider study.
May help to improve the symptoms of ADHD: Studies have shown that taking omega-3 supplements may help to decrease the symptoms of ADHD in children, and may even help to improve working memory and the ability to focus. Certain studies have also shown that omega-3 supplements can help to improve attention, reduce impulsivity and hyperactivity, and help keep maintained focus in children with (and without) ADHD (Bos et al., 2015)
Promotes better sleep: As far as I’m aware, every parent wants their child to sleep through the night, and even into the morning. Strangely, if your child is having difficulty sleeping, it might be related to their levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Various studies have shown that children with sleep disturbances slept better with improved levels of omega-3 (Montgomery et al., 2014). However, it has been noted that further study is ongoing in this area.
Supporting foetal development: Not only does Omega-3 help to support the growth of foetal brain and eye development, it has also been suggested that those who have higher levels of omega-3 during pregnancy might decrease the risk of cerebral palsy, autism and ADHD in their child (Strickland, 2014).
How much omega-3 do children need?
Several studies have shown that between 120 and 1300mg of DHA and EPA combined is a suitable amount for children (Nagakura et al., 2000). DHA and EPA are two of the most beneficial types of omega-3 fatty acid, as they can be used by the body without the need to convert them into another substance. ALA is not as effective, and often needs to be converted into either DHA or EPA by the body before it can be used. This process is very inefficient, which is why DHA and EPA are the preferred sources of omega-3 for supplementation.
ALA is the only Omega-3 fatty acid which has a recommended daily amount which ranges from 0.5 grams per day for infants under the age of 1, up to 1.6 grams of ALA for males between the ages of 14-18.
Taking an omega-3 supplement can be especially vital to children growing up on a vegan diet, to ensure that they develop in a healthy way. Remember - fish don’t naturally create omega-3, they get it from the algae they eat, so choosing to raise your child on a diet which doesn’t include fish doesn’t prevent them from getting all the omega-3 they need.
Can omega-3 supplements be harmful to children?
Omega-3 supplements are considered to be generally safe for children. However, those supplements made with fish oil can have a very unpleasant fishy taste, which has a tendency to repeat on you throughout the day, which might be tough for children to manage.
There are other mild side effects which may occur when starting to use omega-3 supplements, such as bad breath, nausea, heartburn and diarrhoea. It is worth noting that introducing smaller doses of omega-3 supplements and increasing them over time is a good way to avoid such side effects, as well as making sure that the type of supplements used are good quality.
Children who have allergies or intolerances to fish, shellfish or fish oil, should only take a plant-based supplement to reduce the chances of an allergic reaction.
Further to this, omega-3 supplements containing fish oil have been shown to contain high levels of pollutants, contaminants and heavy metals, such as mercury. To avoid exposing your children to these substances, it is recommended that you use a plant-based omega-3 supplement. Vivo Life’s plant-based omega-3 liquid supplement offers 300mg EPA and 600mg DHA per serving derived from algae. Using algae means a cleaner supplement, with no heavy metals, unlike their fishy counterparts. As an even bigger plus, it has no fishy taste, and you can drop it in a morning smoothie or glass of juice. Easy peasy!
Newberry, S.J., Chung, M., Booth, M., Maglione, M.A., Tang, A.M., O’Hanlon, C.E., Wang, D.D., Okunogbe, A., Huang, C., Motala, A., Trimmer, M., Dudley, W., Shanman, R., Coker, T.R. and Shekelle, P.G. (2016). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Maternal and Child Health: An Updated Systematic Review. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment, [online] (224), pp.1–826. doi:10.23970/AHRQEPCERTA224.
Kuratko, C., Barrett, E., Nelson, E. and Salem, N. (2013). The Relationship of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) with Learning and Behavior in Healthy Children: A Review. Nutrients, 5(7), pp.2777–2810. doi:10.3390/nu5072777.
Nagakura, T., Matsuda, S., Shichijyo, K., Sugimoto, H. and Hata, K. (2000). Dietary supplementation with fish oil rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in children with bronchial asthma. The European Respiratory Journal, [online] 16(5), pp.861–865. doi:10.1183/09031936.00.16586100.
Magnusson, J., Kull, I., Rosenlund, H., Håkansson, N., Wolk, A., Melén, E., Wickman, M. and Bergström, A. (2013). Fish consumption in infancy and development of allergic disease up to age 12 y. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 97(6), pp.1324–1330. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.045377.
Bos, D.J., Oranje, B., Veerhoek, E.S., Van Diepen, R.M., Weusten, J.M., Demmelmair, H., Koletzko, B., de Sain-van der Velden, M.G., Eilander, A., Hoeksma, M. and Durston, S. (2015). Reduced Symptoms of Inattention after Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation in Boys with and without Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Neuropsychopharmacology, 40(10), pp.2298–2306. doi:10.1038/npp.2015.73.