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Omega 3, fish oils and huge benefits for children

After much research here are some conclusions which we offer to help you make your own decisions about Omega 3. 

Omega 3 oil is the new wonder food.  Here is a short list of the most prominent changes you can expect from a low supply of Omega 3 fatty acids and children and  young people´s mental health: Dyslexia and Dyspraxia, Asthma, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Learning difficulties, Behavioural problems, Poor concentration, Mood swings, Bad temper, Sleeping difficulties, Bipolar disorder, Poor vision. Depression, bipolar disorder or maniac-depressive illness, concentration difficulties, come Schizophrenias, aggression, postpartum depression.

How is the case?
The brain is fat.  About 60% by weight is made up of the type of fat that is in oily fish, omega 3.  Without a sufficient intake of omega 3 the brain uses different fats (shaped differently) instead.  Hydrogenated fat gets used and this is not good.  Insufficent levels of omega 3 seem to correlate with all of the above in various scientific studies for infants, children, young people and adults.  Western diets are among the lowest of omega 3 rich foods.  When we were hunter gatherers, the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 was 1:1.  Now it is in the range of 14:1 to 20:1 of the wrong types of fats.

 A bit more about the studies
Where fish is common, depression is more rare. Studies show that the levels of the long chain omega-3’s in blood of depressed people are lower in those with more severe depression. Omega 3 for depression is based in the regulation of the brain chemical serotonin, a natural anti depressant. Depression and mental helath problems in young people has increased dramatically with the decrease of omega 3 in diets.   As many as 1 in 10 young people may have an anxiety disorder.  The rate of depression among adolescents may be as high as one in eight.   Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15 - 24 year olds.  The rate of suicide for this age group has nearly tripled since 1960, making it the third leading cause of death in adolescents and the second leading cause of death among college age youth.  More teenagers and young adults died as a result of suicide in 1999 than cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, birth defects, stroke and chronic lung disease combined.

Some schizophrenics have low blood levels of DHA. When they received fish oil their symptoms became less severe, there was less apathy and unco-operative behaviour, less hallucinations and less aggression. In a study published in 1999, fish oil was used as an alternative to Lithium, in bipolar disorder. Omega 3 had good mood stabilization effects without the negative side effects of traditional medications.

One study has found that children with ADD and ADHD when given fish oil improved more than when given Ritalin. Behaviour, concentration and parent bonding improved for more than 90% of the children studied. According to neurologist Dr. Fred Baughman, about one-half of children diagnosed with ADHD have also been identified as having a learning disability.   Approximately 50% of ADD/ADHD children may be considered underachievers so there is great scope for the use of fish oils in helping children overcome difficulties.

Psychiatric research claims that a third of violent acts among prisoners can be avoided by giving them an even amount of omega-3 and vitamin supplements. Even monkeys reared on omega-3 deficient diets exhibited restless and unsettled behaviour.  As a behaviour support teacher for many years there is much evidence, according to Dionne (Partner of The Local Food Company) of huge and dramatic improvements from parents who have used fish oils to help children in school and at home.

Dementia is associated with low DHA levels. Dementia now affects about 47% of the population over 80 years of age in Western countries. Research has confirmed the association between low DHA and EPA levels and impaired cognitive function. Other studies have found that fish oil supplementation improves mood, cooperation, appetite, sleep, and short-term memory in Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Regular, sufficient doses of fish oils are also proven to dramatically improve school performance, concentration and achievement.  Nearly three quarters of the youngsters - who were of mixed academic ability - showed improvements in numeracy, reading and writing after taking fish oil supplements for nine months as part of a study commissioned by Boots.

Dr Alex Richardson, a Senior Research Fellow from Oxford University said: "Findings are in line with other evidence that fish oils really can improve behaviour and learning in many children."

So what does this mean in practice regarding diet?
It is the Omega-3 fatty acids - specifically EPA and DHA - that fish oils contain that make fish oils so beneficial. Unfortunately the body can't make Omega-3s; natural sources are oily fish such as salmon, herring, pilchards, mackeral and fresh tuna (not tinned - often destroyed in processing), green leafy vegetables and some nuts. Omega-3 supplements are becoming a popular option in order to achieve the recommended daily intakes but read on below as there is a huge difference between brands which we have discovered and you may be surprised to learn that it's not as simple as one may imagine!

Contrary to some belief, traditional cod liver oil is not particularly rich in EPA and DHA; it also contains the fat-soluble vitamins A and D, that can be toxic in excess, so high doses are not advisable in the long-term.

What is the recommended dosage?
"About 450-500mg per day combined EPA/DHA is a reasonable target for both adults and children" says Dr Richardson.  "Some may need even more to see real benefits - but I wouldn't recommend more than 1,000mg without expert supervision." Children with ADHD or symptoms which can be helped, may be advised to take up to 1000mg.  Taking a small amount such as 100 mg is unlikely to have much effect.  There should be no serious danger of over-dosing on fish oils, but an excess can cause upset stomachs and some people are allergic to fish oil. 

The studies where improvements are found are in higher dosages.  Consult your doctor for your own child's needs but over 500 mg is generally necessary.  Don't mulitply dosage if vitamins are included in the fish oil capsules. 

Adults should take at least 1000 mg to get benefits and if experiencing any particular problems again may be advised to take more. Consult your doctor for specific advice.

You have to be careful when buying supplements!  Did you know for example that some supplements are a waste of money because the dosage is so low to be pretty ineffective?  You end up giving your children or yourself half a dozen capsules and they end up being more expensive than the higher costing but higher dosage ones.  But the next problem is that some contain vitamins and these should not be over supplemented so you can't give half a dozen anyway.  Another problem is that some contain artificial preservatives and colourings which are unnecessary. 

Really useful guide to Which Supplement?
Daily costs quoted are given both for the manufacturers' recommendations and for the dose needed to provide at least 450-500mg of EPA and DHA:

EFALEX WILD BERRY BLAST CHEWIES £4.99 for 30 capsules. Stockists: 0870 6060 128;
Chewable strawberry flavour capsules for children three years and over. Recommended daily dose: (two capsules) provides 150mg DHA, 24mg EPA, cost 33p. Sweeteners: acesulfame-K, saccharin. Colourings: carmine, iron oxide, titanium dioxide.

Dr Richardson says: You need to give six capsules to get the required amount (450-500mg cost 99p) rather than the recommended two, so it works out quite expensive. Also contains Omega-6 fats and might help eczema.
TASTE:  Sweet with fishy after taste

BOOTS SMART OMEGA 3 FISH OIL CHEWABLE CAPSULES £6.50 for 60 capsules. Stockists: Boots nationwide.
Chewable orange flavour capsules suitable for children over three. Recommended daily dose: (two capsules) provides EPA 28mg, DHA 200mg, cost 22p. Sweeteners: mannitol, xylitol, aspartame. Colourings: iron oxides.
Dr Richardson says: You would have to take four rather than two capsules per day, so the daily cost to provide 450-500mg is 44p. This one also contains Vitamins A and D, so consult your GP before increasing the dose.
TASTE: Disgusting and too sickly.

£2.48 for pack of 30 capsules. Stockists: 0800 505 555; Chewable orange flavour capsules for children over three. Recommended daily dose: (two capsules) provides 200mg DHA, cost 16p. Sweeteners: mannitol, aspartame. Colourings: yellow iron oxide, red iron oxide.

Dr Richardson says: Again not enough Omega-3 in the recommended dose and they do not specify the EPA content. You would need to take five tablets (cost 41p) rather than two to get the recommended amount. Also contains A and D vitamins so check with GP before increasing the dose.
TASTE: Fruity taste but created with artificial methods.

£13.99 for 60 softgels. Stockists: Mail order: 0870 053 6000; Natural strawberry flavour softgel capsules for children and adolescents. Recommended daily dose: (two capsules) provides 490mg EPA and 70mg DHA, cost 47p. Sweeteners: none. Colourings: none.

Dr Richardson says: A daily dose of this gives you 560mg EPA/ DHA which is around the level used in trials that showed improvements in children's behaviour and learning. Extra marks for the lack of artificial sweeteners and colourings.
TASTE: None as you swallow them

£18.88 for 90 chewable soft gels. Stockists: 08704 054 002; Natural lemon-flavoured chewable softgels for children from three years to teens. Recommended daily dose: (two softgels) provides 148mg EPA, 98mg DHA, 36mg GLA, cost 42p. Sweeteners: none. Colourings: none.

Dr Richardson says: You would need six (at a cost of £1.26) rather than the recommended two capsules to reach the target dose. Extra marks for no sweeteners or colourings.
TASTE: Like fishy water!

£8.95 for 120 capsules. Stockists: Mail order: 0800 731 2377; Chewy orange fruit bursts for children over three. Recommended daily dose: (two capsules) provides 180mg DHA and 120mg EPA, cost 15p. Sweeteners: sucralose, mannitol and sodium saccharin Colourings: yellow iron oxide paste

Dr Richardson says: If you are on a tight budget this is worth considering. You need only three capsules (22p) to get a 450mg dose. Shame they added sweeteners and colourings. May not be suitable for children with asthma as it contains sulphur dioxide.
TASTE: orange with a lingering fish aftertaste

£22.99 for 180 capsules. Stockists: Boots and superdrug 0870 241 5621; Chewy strawberry flavoured capsules for children over three. Recommended daily dose: (six capsules to start), cost 77p, then two capsules thereafter, provides 186mg EPA, 58mg DHA, 20mg GLA, costs 25p. Sweeteners: xylitol, strawberry flavour. Colourings: carmine.

Dr Richardson says: Instructions say six capsules per day for 12 weeks, reducing to two. To achieve the target dose you really need a minimum four capsules a day (51p) long-term. Uses tooth-friendly sweetener xylitol.
TASTE: Watery.

£14.99 for 28 Sachets. Stockists: 0870 066 4137; Lemon or orange flavour sachets suitable for children over six months old. Recommended daily dose: (one sachet) provides EPA 340mg DHA 225mg, Omega-6 50mg, cost 53p. Sweeteners: tooth friendly xylitol. Colourings: natural.

Dr Richardson says: One sachet provides a good dose of over 500mg. Sachets are a convenient alternative for children who do not like swallowing capsules.
TASTE: Fishy and sour!

£3.99 for 150ml (15x10ml doses). Stockists: From independent pharmacies and Lloyds Pharmacy. Honey flavoured liquid formulation for children over three years old. Recommended daily dose: (10ml) provides 200mg DHA, 40mg EPA, cost 27p Sweeteners: none. Colourings: none.

Dr Richardson says: You would have to take 20ml or 4 teaspoons (cost 53p) to get the required amount. It flags up that it contains no added sugar but the main ingredient is honey. Although it suits some children, liquid formulations do not keep as well as capsules and sachets. Store away from sunlight.
TASTE: Rich honey taste with bit of oily flavour

£19.50 for 300ml. Stockists: 0121 433 3727; Tropical fruit flavour liquid formulation for children over two. Recommended daily dose: (10ml) provides 500mg EPA, 375mg DHA, cost 65p. Sweeteners: fructose Colourings: none

Dr Richardson says: If you really want to match the type of dose used on many of the big trials, this is an excellent product but again as it is a liquid, be careful of how you store it. One 10ml spoon provides 875mg EPA/DHA so you could actually give your child a little less on the spoon. It is flavoured with fruit purees.
TASTE: Sour and strong

They Are What You Feed Them is a new book by Dr Alex Richardson on how diet can affect children's behaviour (HarperThorson £12.99).

Natural Sources
The Food Standards Agency advise that children eat at least two portions of fish a week, including one of oily fish.

Walnuts are a great source of natural omega 3 and 6.  Walnuts come from the stone fruit of a tall deciduous tree which grows in warm areas. Major producers include United States, France, Italy, China, Turkey and Italy.  There are about 15 species of walnut and many varieties within these groups. Next to the almond, walnuts are the most popular nut in Europe.   Shelled, dried walnuts have a short life of around 2-3 months. Keep them dry in an airtight container inside the fridge or freezer to prolong freshness.

The most common variety of walnuts used in Europe are the dried ripe ones. Still in their shell, they're sometimes served as a special course at the end of a meal, or with cheese.

Half or whole nuts are often used as a decoration for desserts, while chopped ones add texture and flavour to puddings, ices and an array of sweet dishes - pastry, biscuits, pies and more.

In savoury cooking, walnuts are often ground to make creamy soups, and are tasteful additions to sauces and stuffings - especially good when paired with poultry and oily fish.

Walnuts add crunch to salads, working well with carrots, apples, celery.

Walnut oil has a delicate flavour, often used in dressings, or to sprinkle over cooked pasta. A dash of walnut oil added to dishes which already contain walnuts accentuates their natural flavour.

Did you know
The Greeks and Romans believed that walnuts, and their resemblance to the human brain, were good for curing headaches

 The sources for this article are UKfood, various newspaper articles including the Daily Mail, The Independent and The Times and various websites.  If you would like to reproduce this article please request first so we can provide you with the exact sources.

copyright: The Local Food Company, Dionne Rooney 2007



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