- Infancy and Toddlerhood
- Early Childhood
- Early Adolescence
- Emerging Adulthood
- Access: nutritious foods (Background Influence)
- Health education and prevention (Immediate Influence)
- Health maintenance, hygiene, provision of healthy food (Immediate Influence)
- Cognitive development (Primary Outcome)
- Physical health (Primary Outcome)
How It Works
While our bodies consist mostly of water, our brains are 60% fat, fat that makes the neurons keep their shape and separation from each other. Our neurons are mostly one kind of fat—something called omega-3, which is specifically a fatty acid. Humans do not manufacture omega-3 alone. We have to eat it, and it comes from just a few things in our diet. There are other kinds of fatty acids, and some of those are not good for our brains. These are the omega-6 fatty acids. Throughout most of human history until just the past 30 to 50 years, humans ate mostly omega-3 (the good fatty acid) and not too much omega-6 (not so good). Today, in America, about 10% of the energy calories you or your children eat come from omega-6, which comes into our diets mostly from soybean, cottonseed, and 10 other seed oils. Soybean oil is the most common and is found in just about everything because farm subsidies have made it so inexpensive. Omega-3 is commonly known as “fish oil,” which, of course, comes from fish. Omega- 3 also comes from grass-fed livestock (not feedlot feed stock), some nuts, some green leafy vegetables, etc. These are the reasons this is important information:
Low levels of omega-3 in a person’s diet increases their aggression, violence and suicidal behaviors. Increasing the rates of intake of omega-3 in controlled studies reduces type of behaviors.
Low levels of omega-3 in a person’s diet can cause depression and bipolar disorder. Increasing omega-3 on daily basis reduces these problems in controlled studies.
Low levels of omega-3 during pregnancy increases behavioral problems and lowers IQ of children. Increasing omega-3 on daily basis during pregnancy or afterwards increases a child’s IQ and academic performance and reduces behavior problems, developmental disorders, and autism symptoms in experiments.
Low levels of omega-3 increases the risk of a number of childhood chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, and other health difficulties. Increasing omega-3 decreases these problems in children in controlled studies.
Why American Children, Youth and Adults Don’t Get Enough Omega-3
You have likely seen ads about people with “chemical imbalances” causing problems like depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc. Have you ever wondered why—suddenly—so many people have chemical imbalances in their brains? Scientists have puzzled over this and began to search for the cause. With good sleuthing, they discovered that brain chemicals had not changed due to sugar, food additives, etc. Rather, American diets changed with all the grain-feed meats, packaged food, salad dressings, chips, prepared baked goods, snacks, fast food, etc., vastly increasing our consumption of omega-6 and reducing omega-3. This is bad, because omega-6 causes the brain to become inflamed and “leak” important brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. Essentially, the brain has little drug factories, and those factories work based on the raw materials the brain receives. If we eat lots of omega-6, that is what the brain’s chemical factories will use. The figure attached to this page (see below), adapted from an article in the British Journal of Medicine, shows fatty acids in our diet.
Omega-3 is good for the brain but omega-6 can complicate both mental and physical health. Omega 3 has no harmful effects, as scientists know. All of this led the American Psychiatric Association on December 12, 2006 to recommend that all psychiatric patients receive at least 1 gram of omega-3 per day to reduce mental illness symptoms. If your child is taking psychotropic medications, then you should alert your child’s medical team to this well-researched recommendation. It is interesting to note that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers insisted that children take cod-liver oil. They knew something: fish oil was good for us.
Recipe for Oil for the Brain
Based on the modern diet, adults need about 2 grams of omega-3 supplementation per day and children need about 1gram per day. Take more than recommended doses only after consulting with your medical practitioner. The National Institutes on Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse have provided a way of calculating 2 grams per day, based on source. See the attached table (below).
If a child has difficulty with the size or flavor of these capsules, you can find highly purified omega-3 in many kid-friendly flavors. Omega 3 is also available in liquid or even “jelly bean” size and look. A company called PharmaOmega specializes in pediatric versions of omega-3. If your child is on psychiatric medications, such as those for bipolar disorder, you may be able to decrease the doses of those medications, since omega-3 may improve their effectiveness. Do not mix omega-3 supplements with blood thinners without consulting a doctor.
What Brand Should You Take?
Consumers Report has ratings of fish oil supplements. For the latest medical findings on omega-3, go to Pub Med, where approximately 60 new studies are published each year (Just search for “fish oil”). Often you can find full-text copies of articles by putting the title of an article in quote marks and searching in Google Scholar or simply across the web. You can consult your local public library, which often has many highly esteemed medical journals such as the Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet, the British Journal of Medicine, or the New England Journal of Medicine. Several good books are available from Amazon.com or similar online sites. Verify any websites that tout the unique effectiveness of their own fish oil supplements by going to www.pubmed.gov for independent, peer-reviewed studies. The USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory maintains a database with an online search function to find the omega 3 content of various foods. The Food Standards Agency of the United Kingdom provides data on mercury content of various fish and advice on safe consumption for pregnant women and women of childbearing age. What you will measure depends on your own reasons for deciding to increase omega-3 intake. For child-related development, complete the free Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire before starting and again about 8 weeks later. For adult depression, you can complete the Goldberg Depression Questionnaire or the Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale before starting and weekly for eight more weeks. For medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease, consult your doctor for testing.
You can reduce the amount of omega-3 required (and save the lives of fish) by reducing your child’s intake of omega-6 (found in soybean, cottonseed, and 10 other seed oils). Soybean oil accounts for about 20% of the caloric intake of U.S. children today. It is in almost every food children eat: chips, breads, snacks, fast food, and most foods at school. Soybeans per se do not present the same problems. Olive oil also is not omega-6.
Performance and Impact
Reduces aggression, violence, depression, bipolar disorder, post partum depression and borderline personality disorder; early evidence for reducing symptoms of developmental disorders and for reducing CVD and asthma. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13
Freeman, M.P., Hibbeln, J.R., Wisner, K.L., Brumbach, B.H., Watchman, M., & Gelenberg, A.J. (2006). Randomized doseranging pilot trial of omega-3 fatty acids for postpartum depression.. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 113(1), 31–35. ↩
Freeman, M.P., Hibbeln, J.R., Wisner, K.L., Davis, J.M., Mischoulon, D., Peet, M., et al. (2006). Omega-3 fatty acids: evidence basis for treatment and future research in psychiatry.. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 67(12), 1954–1967. ↩
Gesch, C.B., Hammond, S.M., Hampson, S.E., Eves, A., & Crowder, M.J. (2002). Influence of supplementary vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids on the antisocial behaviour of young adult prisoners. Randomised, placebo-controlled trial.. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 181, 22–28. ↩
Fava, M. (2001). Augmentation and combination strategies in treatment-resistant depression.. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 62(Suppl 18), 4–11. ↩
Hibbeln, J.R. (1998). Fish consumption and major depression.. Lancet, 351(9110) ↩
Hibbeln, J.R., Ferguson, T.A., & Blasbalg, T.L. (2006). Omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies in neurodevelopment, aggression, and autonomic dysregulation: opportunities for intervention.. International Review of Psychiatry (Abingdon, England), 18(2), 107– 118. ↩
Hibbeln, J.R., Nieminen, L.R., Blasbalg, T.L., Riggs, J.A., & Lands, W.E. (2006). Healthy intakes of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids: estimations considering worldwide diversity.. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 83(6 Suppl), 1483S–1493S. ↩
Jarvinen, R., Knekt, P., Rissanen, H., & Reunanen, A. (2006). Intake of fish and long-chain n-3 fatty acids and the risk of coronary heart mortality in men and women.. The British Journal of Nutrition, 95(4), 824–829. ↩
Mickleborough, T.D., Lindley, M.R., Ionescu, A.A., & Fly, A.D. (2006). Protective effect of fish oil supplementation on exerciseinduced bronchoconstriction in asthma.. Chest, 129(1), 39–49. ↩
Richardson, A.J. (2006). Omega-3 fatty acids in ADHD and related neurodevelopmental disorders.. International Review of Psychiatry (Abingdon, England), 18(2), 155–172. ↩
Stoll, A.L., Severus, E., Freeman, M.P., Rueter, S., Zboyan, H.A., Diamond, E., et al. (1999). Omega 3 fatty acids in bipolar disorder: A preliminary double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.. Archives of General Psychiatry, 56(5), 407–412. ↩
Vaddadi, K. (2006). Essential fatty acids and mental illness.. International Review of Psychiatry (Abingdon, England), 18(2), 81–84. ↩
Zanarini, M.C., & Frankenburg, F.R. (2003). Omega-3 fatty acid treatment of women with borderline personality disorder: A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study.. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 160(1), 167–169. ↩