Family

Why is Omega-3 important for children’s health?

A generation ago nobody had ever heard of omega- 3 fatty acids, but these days most of us are well aware of how important they are for our health and wellbeing

They’re also very important for our children’s health, right from the word go, so pregnant women and breastfeeding mums are encouraged to eat a diet rich in omega 3s. Getting your kids to eat plenty of them can sometimes be a battle, but it is one that’s worth fighting – here’s why.

Brain training

The brain contains the most fat of any organ in the body, including an omega-3 fatty acid known as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). This fatty acid starts building up in your unborn baby’s brain in the last three months of pregnancy and continues to accumulate for at least the first two years of life.

Studies have shown that making sure kids get adequate amounts of omega 3s (especially DHA, which comes from fatty fish like salmon) can have many benefits, including improving memory and learning.

one trial found that babies fed formulas enriched with DHA showed improvementsin hand-eye co-ordination, attention span, social skills and intelligence test scores.

Meanwhile, other research has shown that children born to mothers who took supplements of fish oils during pregnancy and the first few months of breastfeeding scored higher on cognitive (thinking) tests when they were four, compared with children whose mothers didn’t get extra DHA.

Improved vision

During the last three months of pregnancy, omega 3s are needed to help the retina of the eye (which is largely made up of fats) develop properly.

A diet rich in omega 3s may be able to help some children improve sub-optimal vision, say scientists.

Premature babies

Some evidence suggests adding omega 3s to formula given to premature babies may help to promote growth and brain development. Meanwhile, a study found that pregnant women who ate eggs enriched with omega 3s were less likely to go into premature labour than women who ate standard eggs.

Easing asthma

Research is still in its early days, but it seems omega 3s may play a part in easing asthma symptoms. A 2008 study found that the children of women who took fish oil in pregnancy were less likely to develop the respiratory condition. A small study of children with asthma found that those who took omega-3 supplements had fewer symptoms than those who didn’t. It’s thought omega 3s may work by reducing inflammation in the airways.

ADHD

New research is showing evidence that omega 3s may benefit children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Two British studies found that when children with the disorder were given either omega 3s or a placebo, the children taking the fatty acids had reduced signs of ADHD.

The supplements appeared to improve behaviour, reduce hyperactivity and boost attention span. It seems the key is a particular acid found in omega 3s, called EPA. Meanwhile, other research indicates that omega 3s may help reduce violent behaviour.

oental illnesses

Fish oil is often used as a treatment for depression in adults, and a few initial studies in children suggestit can make significant improvements in symptoms suffered by children aged between six and 12. omega3s have also been shown to ease symptoms of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Diabetes

There’s some evidence a diet rich in omega 3s in childhood may be able to help prevent diabetes later in life.

one study looked at children who had a high risk of developing the disease and found that those who ate fish or took supplements were less likely to be diagnosed with it when they were adults.

**How can kids get enough omega 3s?

**our bodies can’t make omega 3s – we have to get them from our diet. The best food source is oily fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines. Walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and canola oil are also good sources.

However, children often turn their noses up at these foods, so it can be a mission getting them to eat enough. If you can’t persuade your children to eat oily fish at least once a week, and they refuse nuts or seeds, there are many supplements especially for children that come in tasty flavours. Flax oil is another option. Small amounts can be drizzled on top of foods and used as salad dressing. Don’t cook with it though – heat destroys the healthy components it contains. It’s also possible to get omega 3-enriched eggs.

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