Whether children should be pumped full of fish oil or not is certainly a current hot topic. Fish oil is a powerhouse of polyunsaturated fatty acids, most notable of which are the Omega-3 fatty-acids DHA and EPA. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is thought to hold a leading role in the developing infant brain and nervous system. Studies show that the amount of EPA and DHA found in cell membranes is directly related to and impacts neural signal transmission, neurotransmitter synthesis and binding, and the activity of a variety of enzymes.1
There is a large amount of research which demonstrates that the lack of the Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) is a precursor of diminished brain function and has a role in attention deficit disorder (ADHD), depression and a host of other psychological disturbances in adults as well as children.
According to one British study over 100 children from 12 Durham schools were asked to take a course of capsules containing high levels of Omega-3s for a period of six months. While not every child benefited, the study found that roughly 40% of the children demonstrated marked improvement.2
Studies indicate that the repairing of damaged connections in the brain may not be possible, as indicated by Dr. Richard Weisinger’s (Univeristy of Melbourne, Australia) 2001 study. Dr. Weisinger’s team deprived laboratory rats of essential fatty acids during certain periods of their development which resulted in high blood pressure. This condition remained for the remaining natural lives of the rats, demonstrating that the damage to the brain’s ardiovascular and the autonomic nervous system was permanent.2
Even if the damage is everlasting, what the Durham trial shows is that not everything is lost. Supplements of fish oil still have substantial benefits to offer. The Durham trial used the fatty acid EPA, which is found sparingly in the structure of the cell membranes, but does appear to have a greater functional duty. EPA is employed in the manufacture of substances known as eicosanoids, some of which aid in improving blood flow throughout the body. Dr. Richardson (conductor of the Durham trial) believes that the improvement shown by the children could be the result of improved blood flow. Some people naturally break down Omega-3 fatty acids faster, and the children showing improvement in Durham trial might belong to this group.
Regardless of the fact that not all children may benefit equally from fish oil supplements, it is clear that using them in age appropriate doses causes no harm. In fact the benefits of Omega-3s in terms of inflammatory diseases like cardiovascular health, cancer and arthritis is quiet clear. Furthermore, there is some evidence pointing to reduction in the severity of ADHD-like behaviour in some children.