The intake of various dietary supplements is now part of everyday life for many. More and more suppliers are also advertising their products for children – the focus here is particularly on their supposedly positive effect on children's brains (1).
So, among other things, also with fish oil for children. Meanwhile, in many regions of the world, such as the United States, fish oil is one of the most common non-vitamin supplements used by children (2).
We would like to support you with the help of this article. After a brief introduction to fish oil and its composition, we will go into more detail about the possibilities, as well as advantages and disadvantages, as well as alternatives to fish oil for children.
the essentials in brief
- Childhood is one of the years in which the most important mental and physical development processes take place. For an ideal course of this, the child needs a lot of EPA and DHA, which can be found in fish oil.
- Fish oil is available in different variations. This gives you the opportunity to choose the form that best suits your child's circumstances.
- There are some natural alternatives to children's fish oil supplements. By including these in the family nutrition plan, the required omega-3 fatty acids can also be covered.
Background: What is fish oil for children?
In this guide you will find all the important information about fish oil for children. We have compiled and answered the most relevant questions on the subject for you.
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are “unsaturated” fatty acids , which are long chains of molecules containing either single or multiple double bonds between carbon atoms (3). They are the main ingredient in children's fish oil. The omega-3 fatty acids are particularly important for growth and development (4), which is why they are particularly essential for children.
Omega-3 fatty acids are components of almost all cell membranes, but can be built up and assembled almost exclusively through food intake. For this reason, foods, or supplements, containing omega-3 fatty acids should be part of everyone's diet (4).
Children can greatly benefit from the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. (Image source: Caroline Hernandez/ unsplash)
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered important for the brain (1). They can be found, for example, in many fatty fish such as sea fish or salmon(1). This is where the name of fish oil comes from.
What are the different types of omega-3 fatty acids and which ones are suitable for children?
There are a variety of omega-3 fatty acids, some of which can also be found in our foods (3). In the following we would like to briefly introduce you to the most important of them.
|Representative||Occur in||Suitable for children|
|DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)||microalgae, cold water fish, krill||Yes|
|EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)||microalgae, cold water fish, krill||Yes|
|ALA (Alpha Linolenic Acid)||linseed, walnuts||Yes|
Basically, foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids are always just as well tolerated by children as they are by adults, with the exception of personal allergies or intolerances.
Fish oil for children as a dietary supplement is usually designed directly for children because of the packaging design - often decorated with cartoon-like fish smiling at the viewer. Due to the dosage, which will be discussed later, it makes sense to access these products as well.
What does fish oil do for children?
For a good supply of the brain, it needs omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which it can usually get from various food sources (1). In the absence of such, it seems advisable to get children's fish oil so that your child does not experience any disadvantages in his/her development.
In general, various studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids from fish and fish oils can protect against many diseases.
For one, it's possible that regular intake may protect against coronary artery disease and lead to cardiac benefits in general (5). Psychiatric disorders can also be better treated with omega-3 fatty acids (6). Omega-3 fatty acid intake also generally supports building and maintaining brain function (6).
This fact is unmistakably of great importance, especially in child development, since the brain is particularly developing and growing in this phase. The omega-3 fatty acid DHA plays a central role here and is considered essential for “normal” brain function, especially for processing visual and cognitive stimuli (7).
Omega-3 fatty acids can have a positive impact on your child's learning behavior. (Image source: Element5 Digital/ unsplash)
A study also found that the intake of DHA in infants and children is often rather low and that supplementation with polyunsaturated fatty acids, for example in the form of fish oil, has a positive effect on learning and the associated school performance (7).
Another study that observed the effects of taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements in 8-12 year olds over a 3-month period found that the majority of children demonstrated improvements (12).
Why should children take fish oil?
DHA, one of the main omega-3 fatty acids, forms an important component in the outer covering of our nerve cells, which links it directly to the healthy development of nerve tissue in the brain, eye, spinal cord and gastrointestinal tract (3).
Cognitive abilities, which include memory, creativity, imagination and forming opinions, are also promoted by the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA contained in fish oil (3). These are inevitably important instances in child development.
If there is a lack of a "natural" supply of omega-3 fatty acids in their diet, children will benefit from taking the fish oil dietary supplement.
Likewise, behavioral problems, such as aggression problems, can be reduced with regular intake of omega-3 supplementation. A demonstrable reduction in such behavioral problems thus led to the conclusion that omega-3 also has an effect on such deficits(8).
Other behavioral disorders, such as hyperactivity or inattention, have also been shown to be positively influenced by the intake of omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish oil for children (9).
Children suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) could experience benefits from taking fish oil. According to one study, omega-3 fatty acids can be a good add-on treatment for the symptoms typical of ADHD, such as impulsiveness and attention deficit disorders, as well as improving working and short-term memory (10). By taking fish oil for children, the dose of conventional ADHD medication could be reduced.
How can you identify an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency in children?
There are various symptoms by which one can identify a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids . These include dry skin, photosensitivity, low frustration tolerance and attention span, as well as insomnia and general fatigue (11). However, you should not diagnose your child yourself, and if you experience one or more of these symptoms, you should first consult the pediatrician for advice.
However, if fish or other food sources containing omega-3 fatty acids are not part of your child's diet, this could already be an important indication that your child is deficient in this nutrient. For this reason, you should not withhold this information from the responsible doctor.
When can and should children start taking fish oil?
Even infants can be fed directly and indirectly, via breast milk, which has been shown to have positive consequences for the child's development (13). So there isn't really an age limit that one has to follow.
Even during pregnancy, expectant mothers can provide their future child with omega-3 fatty acids(2).
It should be noted, however, that the period between the ages of 2 and 10 is of particular importance for the mental and physical development of children, which is why taking fish oil is particularly suitable for children in these years (3).
What forms of fish oil for children are there?
Fish oil supplements come in 5 different flavors, each with its own pros and cons (11). Accordingly, one variant may be more suitable for your child than another. In the following we would like to briefly introduce you to the various options so that you can make the best decision for you and your child more easily.
Providing children with tablets is often not that easy - but fish oil for children offers a number of alternatives. (Image source: Anshu A/ unsplash)
Capsules can best be compared to common tablets. They are taken with a large sip of water and swallowing the capsule.
What is not a problem for most adults is often a challenge for children. However, you can also find products in the category that have been specially tailored to children. The capsules are often very small and narrow - the dosage must also be optimally adjusted.
Chewable tablets are similar to capsules, but as the name implies, you chew them up first and then swallow them. Of course, the child must already be able to chew in this case, so it is not suitable for the very young.
One benefit that chewable tablets have is that they come in fruity flavors, making them more like a candy than a "medicine," which may appeal to children in particular.
Fish oil as an oil - probably what you had in mind when you heard the term anyway - is usually in a very high dose, which is why your child does not have to take it as often as the other variants.
It's easy to mix into your child's dishes or drinks, eliminating the need for additional flavoring of the oil. Babies and very young children can also get the nutrients they need in this way. Unfortunately, the oil is also a bit more expensive and more difficult to dose than the other representatives.
Basically, fruit gums are not all that different from chewable tablets – except for their consistency. In fact, these are small drops comparable to traditional gummy candies that your child can easily eat. The dosage is very easy to regulate and there are also different flavors that should make it easier for the child to take it.
Fish oil for children as a juice is very similar to the oil variety, only in a weaker form. The dosage in the juice is not too high, which means that it has to be taken more frequently. Different flavors are available again, which makes the taste pleasant for children. However, you have to pay close attention to the correct dosage.
How to dose fish oil for children?
For precise information, it is best to use the recommendation for the fish oil for children you have purchased as a guide. For targeted treatment of diseases such as ADHD, you should definitely consult the pediatrician or therapist. The dosage always depends on the age of the child. The following table should give you an initial overview.
|Old||Daily dosage of omega-3 fatty acids|
|6-10 years||200-250 mg|
These values are based on information from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)(3). Doctors and scientists have not yet been able to agree on a uniform statement, which is why different recommendations apply in different countries. In general, however, young children between the ages of four and six years old should take between 55 and 200 milligrams of EPA and DHA daily (3).
Can fish oil for children also be overdosed and what would be the consequences?
Of course, as with any other dietary supplement, it is possible to overdose. However, this would have to be far above the recommended values (900 mg EPA + 600 mg DHA daily for several weeks) in order to be able to feel the consequences (2). Possible consequences would be:
- Reduction of platelet aggregation
- impairment of immune function
- unpleasant taste
- bad breath
Most of the items on this list are rather minor inconveniences. According to the European Food Safety Authority, long-term use of EPA and DHA supplements, such as fish oil for children, in doses of up to about 5g daily is safe (2). So if your child sometimes accidentally takes fish oil twice a day instead of just once, there are no bad consequences to be expected.
What are the pros and cons of fish oil for kids?
As we showed you when introducing the different forms of fish oil for kids, each fish oil product has its pros and cons. The following table gives you a general overview.Advantages
- good for heart health
- additional treatment of mental illnesses such as ADHD
- improves attention
- helps with asthma
We do not want to anticipate a general judgment, but of course, as with all other dietary supplements, natural alternatives are always to be preferred. You can find more about the alternatives at the end of this article.
Can taking fish oil be harmful to children?
So far, no demonstrable harm caused by fish oil for children has been established (15). However, the evidence for the benefit is still a long time coming, which also calls into question the necessity of taking it.
What are the alternatives to fish oil for children?
The presentation and advertising of manufacturers of children's fish oil is aimed primarily at the concerns of parents, who would like to avoid, for all the world, that their child is in any way undersupplied. However, there are some alternatives to consider before actually making the switch to supplements.
Ideally, fish should be on children's menus at least once a week. (Image source: Shayda Torabi/ unsplash)
A balanced diet, including the following foods at regular intervals 1-2 times a week (1) should have the same, if not better, effect than children's fish oil.
- Sea Fish: Microalgae produce large amounts of EPA and DHA, and these are precisely what cold-water fish distort. The fish subsequently store the nutrients in their own fatty tissue. Salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines therefore offer an ideal source for the natural intake of omega-3 fatty acids. (3)
- Walnuts: The plant-based omega-3 fatty acid ALA can be found in these nuts (3). A daily handful should meet your omega-3 needs.
- Linseed oil/ rapeseed oil: Preparing salads or cooking with these oils also provides you and your child with ALA.
- Soy: The fact that the valued ALA nutrients are also found in soy should be of particular interest to vegetarians and vegans.
- Flaxseed: Adding flaxseed to your dishes is also a good alternative to add to the daily recommendation of omega-3 nutrients.
In particular, eating fish at least once, if possible twice a week, is highly recommended by many doctors, as it not only provides the necessary omega-3 fatty acids, but is also considered a healthier alternative to protein (15).
For children, a weekly meal of fish means that their need for the important nutrients is adequately covered. Alternatively, snacking on walnuts and regularly using flaxseed oil is also possible to balance the required omega-3 fatty acid intake (3).
Omega-3 fatty acids play a central role in the development of the brain, which plays a particularly important role when children grow up. If they are not adequately supplied with it in their early development phase, this can have serious consequences. However, creating a diet that includes a lot of fish is often not that easy for children who don't like fish and are generally very picky about their food.
For these reasons, fish oil seems to be the ideal solution for children. So far, no serious disadvantages have been identified that are caused by the intake of fish oil for children, but there are also no meaningful studies that unreservedly endorse the dietary supplement and its effects. For your own protection, always consult your pediatrician before deciding to give your child fish oil supplements.
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