Fish oil is an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), while flaxseed oil and algal oil are excellent sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is the precursor to DHA and EPA. ALA is an essential fatty acid, which means our body cannot produce this fatty acid.
Our body has limited ability to convert ALA to DHA and EPA. This is even more so in children with ADHD. Males, in particular, have a harder time converting ALA to DHA and EPA than females.
Furthermore, the typical American diet, which is excessive in omega 6 and deficit in omega 3 fatty acids, makes the situation even worse. The optimal ratio is 4:1. You might think 4:1 – it seems we need more omega 6 than omega 3. Not if the typical American diet provides a ratio of 20:1. That means, our children will need to increase their dietary omega 3 intake by 5 times to get to the optimal 4:1 ratio.
In fact, studies have shown that many children with ADHD have very low blood levels of omega 3 fatty acids. This deficiency is associated with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, apraxia, depression and anxiety. In recent years, researches and studies have shown that omega 3 fatty acids supplementation improves ADHD symptoms, such as hyperactivity, inattentiveness, aggressions, anxiety, impulsiveness, and learning difficulties.
Both fish oil and cod liver oil contains the omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. But cod liver oil has a higher EPA content, and it also contains vitamin A and vitamin D, which help boost immunity to fight infection.
Fish oil is better choice for children struggling with dyslexia and attentiveness for its higher DHA content. Cod liver oil would be a better choice for children with frequent infection, mood swings and/or depression.
DHA vs EPA
Both DHA and EPA play important roles in the brain development. DHA has a structural role and EPA has a functional role in the brain development. EPA affects hormone metabolism, dopamine (neurotransmitter that regulates mood) metabolism and immune systems. DHA is the major structural component of nerve cells. DHA is also a major component of the retina in the eye.
FAT AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT
During early childhood, the brain develops rapidly. You see the rapid progression of infants transitioning from just crying, drinking, pooping and sleeping to walking, eating, and talking in merely under one year. This is also why we always say baby’s brain is like a sponge. It absorbs new knowledge and skills very quickly. In fact, the infant brain doubles in weight by 2 years of age from birth, and continues to develop rapidly until at least 5 years of age. And the brain does not stop development and reshaping until we die. Amazing…
WHAT HELPS THE BRAIN GROW SO FAST? FATS.
As the brain develops more nerve cells, more fat, in the form of fatty acids, is needed. Omega 3 fatty acids make up about 8-10 percent of brain tissues. It is the major components of myelin sheaths on nerve cells. Myelin is the fatty coating on nerve cells. The myelin sheaths insulate nerve cells (imagine electrical wiring) to ensure smooth uninterrupted transmission of impulses, preventing misfiring of nerve impulses. The rapid myelination during early childhood is what helps brain develops.
Because of this special needs in infants and young children, fat should not be restricted. Infants and children up to 2 years old should maintain a diet of up to 50% of calories coming from fat.
Healthy fats, such as avocado, safflower oil, olive oil, organic animal fats, organic eggs, coconut oil, and organic nut oils are encouraged. Organic oils/fats are preferred because pesticides, hormones and other chemicals tend to accumulate in fatty tissues in animals and/or plants. The organic choices will help to minimize intake of these substances, which can affect brain developments and health.
Yes, I know eating fish is a good way of adding omega-3 fatty acid. But the amount is usually not enough. And breaded fish sticks do not cut it.
Fish oil is one of those well-studied and well-researched nutrients. And obviously you've seen the explosion of fish oil supplements everywhere. DHA and EPA are so safe that they are now in almost every brand of infant formula and recommended for pregnant women to help with brain and eye development.
Children with ADHD need more DHA and EPA than other children. They may need up to 500mg to 1,000mg DHA from fish oil or cod liver oil. Remember these children have defective fatty acid metabolism, which makes converting ALA to DHA/EPA difficult. This is even more so in males than in females. Therefore, the best route to get adequate DHA and EPA is through fish oil or cod liver oil.
Most supplement container shows the total amount of fish oil, DHA and EPA per capsule. From here, you will have to do some math to figure out how many capsules your child needs to get to 500mg. Don't be surprised if it takes 4-6 capsules to get to 500mg. If your child prefers the gummy fish oil, the number could be double (10-12 pills).
Fish oil supplements have become very popular due to its many benefits and supporting researches. Manufacturers are coming out with new products that are flavorful for children. Look for high potency ones that deliver high dose of DHA in a more condense form. These tend to be more expensive. Therefore, when shopping make sure you know what you are looking for, then price compare. It may be cheaper to buy a more expensive bottle, that your child may need only 1 pill a day versus a cheaper bottle that he/she will need 4-6 pills a day.
Cod liver oil is a good choice too. You can easily get the same amount of DHA and EPA from just 1 teaspoon of cod liver oil versus 4 fish oil pills. Besides having EPA and DHA, cod liver oil also provides vitamin A and vitamin D that are not in fish oil supplements.
Recently, I am surprised by seeing many children with ADHD being "prescribed" a pharmaceutical grade fish oil manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline called Lovaza, which is an omega-3-acid ethyl ester. The reason I'm surprised is that Lovaza is approved for use to manage high blood fat level. But these psychiatrists are able to prescribe these for treating ADHD.
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· Vitamin C
· Vitamin D
· Vitamin E