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From decoding common omega terms to understanding vegetarian sources and how much you need, here's the lowdown on healthy fats.
Should children take EPA and DHA supplements?
If kids aren’t getting enough EPA-DHA from their diets—which most don’t—then yes, says Gretchen Vannice, RD, who adds that omega-3s are “absolutely critical in infant development.” In addition to nurturing cells in growing organs and providing a lipid barrier that plumps up skin—making the complexion and hair look more healthy (a bonus for teens)—long-chain fatty acids may also combat attention deficits and behavior issues, she says.
“We know that children with ADHD and other focus problems have lower omega-3 levels in their blood compared with other children, and some clinical trials show supplementation yields benefit,” Vannice says. One 2012 study looked at 90 children ages 7 to 12 who rated high on ADHD measures. Some were given 500 mg EPA-DHA fish oil daily; others were given safflower oil. After four months, those with boosted DHA levels showed significant improvements in reading and behavior problems. Another 2012 trial tracked 224 kids ages 7 to 9 who scored poorly on reading tests. After supplementing with 600 mg daily of algae-based DHA, the poorest readers’ scores improved as much as 50 percent above expectations.
Not all studies have been so encouraging. One recent review of 13 trials with 1,011 subjects found “little evidence that supplementation provides any benefit for the symptoms of ADHD” and lamented weaknesses in existing studies.
Vannice agrees more research is needed on the EPA-DHA-behavior link. But there are plenty of other reasons growing kids should get enough omega-3s. “It’s like making a cake; if you forget the oil, the recipe is just not going to be quite right.” She recommends at least 500 mg daily via food and supplements. Consider liquid formulas and chewables until kids can swallow pills.