OMEGA 3 AND CHILDREN
From the book FULL-FAT SOLUTION
by Karlene Karst, R.D.
Behavioral and Learning Disorders: The Omega-3 Connection
Childhood should be a special time filled with fun and excitement. Although this may be true for many children, more and more are being diagnosed with behavioral problems (keeping in mind that children are supposed to be energetic and full of life). However, when a child's energy pulls them from one task to another in a blink, and you notice your child is unable to concentrate, becomes bored with activities quickly, and is always looking for something else to do, then a behavioral problem may be present. These children tend to perform poorly in an academic environment. Children can be classified as hyperactive, aggressive, or a combination of both. These conditions can be classified as attention-deficit disorder (ADD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is being identified as an epidemic, affecting 5.29 percent of school-age children (these are the documented and diagnosed cases) all over the world, and functional impairment persists in up to 70 percent of all affected children through adulthood. ADHD is more common in young boys than in young girls. The exact cause is not known; however, many factors interact to cause the problem. Why have we seen such a dramatic increase in these learning and behavioral difficulties in our children? I don't remember any of my friends having these issues when I was a child. Now it is commonplace. Is it a difference in diagnosing or labeling them, or are we so much more sophisticated in our knowledge? The significant change in our diet that has occurred over the last twenty years, in particular the high consumption of sugar and decrease in healthful fats are major indicators for what we are seeing today. We have witnessed as much as a four to five times increase in children being diagnosed with these conditions. This is why we see improvements in the symptoms when diet changes are implemented.
Research has suggested a strong nutritional link between abnormalities in cell communication and cognitive and behavioral disturbances associated with autism, ADD/ADHD, dyslexia (reading and writing disorders), dyspraxia (coordination and developmental disorders, where the coordination of motivation and action is problematic), oppositional behavioral disorders, and impaired social behavior, as well as anxiety and tic disorders.
Research has shown that a relative lack of omega-3 fatty acids, in addition to high omega-6 (too much arachidonic acid) creates an imbalance that can lead to ADHD and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Another focus of research has been whether or not there is an increased need for certain fats, such as DHA, in some individuals. DHAhas been recognized for its importance in learning, memory, and concentration. Laura J. Stevens suggests in a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that an altered fatty acid metabolism is a key contributor to the nutritional deficiencies in children with behavioral and learning disorders. The fifty-three study participants with ADHD had lower concentrations of EFAs in their blood cells compared with forty-three controls.
The same researchers continued their studies on young boys with learning disorders. They found a greater number of behavior problems, temper tantrums, learning disorders, and sleep difficulties in the participants with lower total omega-3 concentrations. The efficiency in which omega-3s are metabolized is lower in boys than girls due to gender differences and the influence of testosterone. This is one of the reasons why autism, ADD, and ADHD are higher in boys than girls.
EFA Combination Improves Learning Disabilities
A study published in Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry in 2002 examined the effects of EFAs on ADHD-related symptoms in children with specific learning disabilities (mainly dyslexia). Forty-one children ages eight to twelve years with specific learning difficulties and above-average ADHD ratings were randomly allocated to the EFA supplementation group for twelve weeks. After twelve weeks of EFA supplementation, improvements were noted in attention, restlessness-impulsiveness, anxiousness-shyness, and cognitive problems. The researchers concluded that EFA supplementation appears to reduce ADHD-related symptoms in children with dyslexia.
Other researchers, such as Dr. Jacqueline Stordy, have had success with a combination of fish and evening primrose oils. Stordy said that children who consume enough EFAs become calmer and their reading skills improve. In another study, Richardson and Puri observed a decline in cognitive disorders and general behavioral abnormalities and psychosomatic symptoms such as anxiety, shyness, cognitive problems, inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Supplementing with DHA and EPA in combination with AA and GLA led to a decline in numerous symptoms.
One of the most impressive studies I have read is called the "Oxford-Durham Study," in which a supplement comprising fish oil and evening primrose oil was tested for its effectiveness on the abnormal behavior of children with dyspraxia. Of the sixty children in the active treatment group, fifty-five exhibited significant reading/writing weaknesses, and fifty had pronounced ADHD symptoms, whereas all fifty-seven children in the placebo group had considerable reading/writing difficulties, and fifty-two had pronounced ADHD symptoms. The supplement of an EPA, DHA, and GLA mixture resulted in significant improvements in the reading/writing difficulties and ADHD symptoms, as well as the aggressive and anxious behavior. At the end of the thirty-month treatment, clinically relevant ADHD symptoms were evident in only 23 percent of all children. I find this to be compelling, exciting, and utterly amazing. As I have said before, if we give our bodies the ability to heal, they can with the proper food and nutrients.
0mega-3s Can Help Autistic Children
Autism spectrum disorders usually become noticeable after age two and into early childhood. They are characterized by social interaction and communication weaknesses, as well as by stereotypical behavior. Children often display behavioral abnormalities such as self-harm, aggression, and fits of rage. However, children suffering from autism also possess strength in perception and attention, as well as memory and intelligence. The moderate success of the drugs used to treat autism is often disproportionate to their deleterious side effects.38 As is the case with ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia, it has become clear that autism spectrum disorders are also related to a deficiency of omega-3s. For example, children with autism show lower amounts of omega-3s in their blood compared with healthy children. One study involving 861 autistic and 124 healthy children established a relationship between the low DHA and AA levels in infant formula and the occurrence of autism. Babies receiving infant formula low in DHA and AA are at a much greater risk of developing autism spectrum disorders than children who are breast-fed.39
In another study investigating omega-3 supplementation on autistic children, the parents reported a general improvement in the health of their children. The children were able to sleep better and concentrate more easily, and they displayed improved cognitive and motor abilities and were more sociable and less irritable, aggressive, and hyperactive.
Summary of Omega-3 Benefits for Children's Health
Improved central nervous-system functioning
Greater ability to concentrate, focus
Healthier sleep patterns
Improved motor abilities
More sociable and less irritable, aggressive, and
Stronger immune systems
Reduced risk of asthma and allergies
Decreased risk of ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia,
and autism spectrum disorders
Greater motor skills