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The Benefits of Fish Oils for Child Development

For many years millions of people have understood the benefits of taking cod liver oil as a supplement to their diet. Over the past few decades awareness into the foods we eat has increased and the importance of oils obtained from the body tissue of fatty fish, rather than the liver alone, has become more apparent. To achieve optimum health, food that is high in saturated fat or contains trans fats should be kept to a minimum and we are advised by medical experts to consume food which contains high levels of essential fatty acids.

Child Development

Essential fatty acids can be found in polyunsaturated oils which are grouped into two families, omega-3 EFAs (alpha linoleic) and omega-6 EFAs (linoleic). There are subtle differences in the molecular formation of these two fatty acids, yet the effect they have on various functions of the human body can differ considerably. Omega-3 fatty acids are said to prevent inflammation, blood clotting and tumor growth, whereas omega-6 fatty acids are thought to have an opposite effect, if too much is ingested on a daily basis.  A number of scientists and nutritionists believe that an excessive consumption of omega-6 EFAs can leave us with an increased risk of developing diabetes, hypertension and heart disease as well as promoting obesity, some forms of cancer and even premature aging.  It is however, essential to have both omega-6 and omega-3 EFAs in our diet as the human body is unable to produce these important fatty acids on its own; we just need to ensure that we get the ratio right.  The ratio in which we consume these oils should be approximately 2 or 3:1 (omega-6 EFAs:omega-3 EFAs) rather than an estimated 15 or 17:1 which is thought to be prevalent in our modern day diet.

Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in corn, sunflower, soybean, safflower and cottonseed oil. Heating omega-6 oils to high temperatures creates dangerous trans fats.  Food manufacturers often add trans fats to their recipes to increase the shelf life of their products. Food containing trans fats include; certain margarines, cookies, vegetable shortening, commercial pastries, crackers, snack food and fried food. As we need omega-6 fatty acids in our diet, it is best to consume these oils in their raw state and avoid heating them to high temperatures.  A great way to add them to your diet is to use oils containing omega-6 EFAS as a basis for salad dressings and avoid fried food if at all possible.

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in cod, snapper, tuna, halibut, herring, shrimp, shellfish, salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, cauliflower, oregano, mustard seeds, broccoli, cabbage, kale, spinach, turnip greens, strawberries, collard greens, winter squash, summer squash, soybeans, green beans and brussel sprouts

The stresses and pressure of modern life often means that the way we eat today is not always in our best interest.  We often look to convenience foods to save time in the kitchen and it is estimated that over 85% of the Western world population does not consume enough omega-3 EFAs. One way of ensuring that these essential omega-3 fatty acids are obtained is to take high EPA fish oils as a dietary supplement. The primary fatty acids found in fish oils are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and are essential for brain and eye function.  The recommended daily intake of EPA and DHA is around 650 mg for an adult and 1000 mg for a pregnant or lactating woman.  It is thought that emulsified fish oil (fish oils suspended in a base oils) is better absorbed into the body than fish oil capsules, which are gelatine based.

When choosing a suitable fish oil supplement, it is advisable to go for the highest quality product that your budget will allow and check that it is packaged correctly (ideally in a dark glass container) as fish oil can be affected by both light and oxygen.  Once opened, fish oil should be stored in your refrigerator. 

Fish oils containing high levels of DHA and EPA fatty acids can be found at drugstores, health food stores and in some supermarkets.  You can also buy fish oils on the internet; just make sure you use a reputable online store. Taking fish oils as a daily supplement are thought to aid and prevent a variety of diseases and ailments including; dyslexia and dyspraxia, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, cancer, bipolar disorder, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, eczema, asthma, Huntington’s disease, obesity, psoriasis, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Fish Oil for Children

Encouraging our children to eat a diet rich in fish can prove difficult as they will often claim to dislike the flavor.  If your child is unable to tolerate the flavor of oily fish, giving them a fish oil supplement is a way of ensuring they will obtain the essential levels of omega-3 fatty acids needed for eye and brain function.  It is also thought that taking fish oil can improve the symptoms of Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) which include; impulsivity, hyperactivity and inattention.  As well as helping children with learning difficulties such as dyslexia or dyspraxia.  There are many fish oil products specifically designed for children.  Try to use oil which has the highest concentration of EPA and DHA fatty acids, as it will have the best overall effect on the health of your child.

The benefits associated with giving fish oil supplements to children are many. I began to give my 6 year old twin daughters emulsified fish oils in December 2006 and by the end of January their class teacher had noticed a significant difference in their behavior and concentration levels. One of my twins has a tendency towards obsessive behavior patterns.  Within a month of taking high EPA marine fish oil I saw a huge change in her behavior as well.  Her obsessive habits all but disappeared and she was able to concentrate for longer on a variety of tasks.

It is however, important to remember that fish oils take at least 12 weeks to build up the body’s store of long chain fatty acids, and around 6 – 12 months to make a cogent difference. Both my children have benefited greatly from taking marine fish oil and I would recommend it for adults and children alike.


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