“Dr. Linda, I’ve been hearing a lot about Omega-3 essential fatty acids. What are they and why does my baby need them?”
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of essential fatty acid (EFA). These are fatty acids we can’t make in our bodies we have to get them through our diet or in supplement form.
Today, I’ll talk a bit about why they are so important and how you can make sure you and your children are getting enough.
Why are Omega-3 fatty acids important?
Everyone needs omega-3 fatty acids to have a healthy, well functioning body. The Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly important for babies and young children because DHA, one type of Omega-3 fatty acid, is vital to building a healthy brain, eyes, and nervous system.
The last trimester of your pregnancy and the first 2 years of your baby’s life are times of very rapid growth, especially of the brain and eyes. During these times it’s especially important that you and your baby have good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids in your diets.Studies have shown that babies who did not receive enough Omega-3 fatty acids from their moms during pregnancy were at a higher risk of nerve, vision, and behavioral problems.
Other functions of Omega-3 fatty acids:
- EFAs are made into anti-inflammatory chemicals.
- They lower inflammation levels in the body.
- Over time, inflammation leads to autoimmune diseases like diabetes, thyroid diseases, arthritis, and cancer.
- EFAs regulate the function of some of the genes in our bodies.
- They are a part of the cell walls of every cell in the body.
- EFAs are made into hormones that regulate the function of the heart and arteries and are responsible for healthy blood clotting.
The 3 main Omega-3 essential fatty acids are EPA, DHA, and ALA.
EPA, Eicosapentaenoic acid, and DHA Docosahexaenoic acid are known as the ‘marine’ EFAs and are used as building blocks in the body as mentioned above.
ALA, Alpha-linolenic acid is mostly as an energy source by the body. Very little is converted in the body to EPA or DHA.
Sources of Omega-3 essential fatty acids:
EPA and DHA:
Pregnant and breastfeeding moms:
Eating 8-12 ounces of low mercury fish per week (or taking a good quality supplement) will supply you with the Omega-3 essential fatty acids you and your baby need.
Breastmilk supplies breastfed babies with all the Omega-3 fatty acids they need.
Formula supplies bottle-fed babies with the EFAs they need. Formulas fortified with DHA and AA(Arachidonic acid) is available on the market. These formulas have definite benefits for premature babies. They improve the development of their visual and nervous systems. The benefits of these formulas are not as clear in full-term babies.
Getting your baby the EPA and DHA she needs after weaning:
The healthiest way to supply your baby with adequate amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids after weaning is to include 2 servings of low mercury fish or shellfish per week in their diet.
EPA and DHA are known as the ‘marine EFAs’ because cold water deep sea fish contain the highest and most available amounts.
The serving size depends on your baby’s age
- 2-3 years: Serving size is 1 ounce (30g).
- 4-7 years: Serving size is 2 ounces (60 g)
- 8-10 years: 3 ounces (90g)
- 11 years and above: 4 ounces(120g)
Measure out the serving size before, not after, cooking.
Best Sources of EPA and DHA:
- Canned light tuna (not solid white albacore)
- Salmon, especially wild caught.
High mercury fish to avoid:
- King Mackerel.
- Bigeye tuna.
- Tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico.
A helpful rule of thumb is that the smaller the fish, the lower it will be in mercury.
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA):
The standard American diet contains more ALA than EPA and DHA. It is also higher in transfats, fatty foods and sugars all of which cause inflammation in the body.
Eating more fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds and adding fish to your diet goes a long way to making your whole family’s diet
Food sources of ALA:
- Vegetable oils like Canola (rapeseed oil)
- Nuts especially walnuts and walnut oil.
- Soybeans and soybean oil.
- Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil.
- Green leafy vegetables.
- Flaxseed and Flaxseed oil.
- The fat of grass-fed beef.
- Chia seeds.
Supplements of Omega-3 fatty acids:
At the present, there is no definite standardized recommendation for the dosage of Omega-3 fatty acids in the United States. Eating fish twice a week should give you and your child the amounts you need to stay healthy.
If your child won’t eat fish or you don’t have access to low mercury sources of fish here are some dosage guidelines you can use. Please be aware that there are no large studies to back these recommendations up.Check www.consumerlab.com/results/omega3.asp. before you use any supplements. Look for supplements that are tested for heavy metals, dioxin, and PCBs.
Pregnant and breastfeeding moms:
300mg of EPA/DHA/day.
Nordic Naturals makes a good quality supplement.
300-500mg of EPA/DHA/day
600-1000mg of DHA/EPA/day.
Cor-omega squeeze pouches and Barleon’s lemon swirl are good quality supplements you may want to consider if your child can’t swallow pills.
I personally believe it is better to give your baby whole food sources of any nutrient because they contain other elements besides Omega-3 fatty acids that are also good for your child’s health.
If you think your child (or you) are deficient in of Omega-3 fatty acids here are some symptoms to look for :
- A child who is low in Omega-3 essential fatty acids doesn’t ‘feel good’ or is tired a lot.They don’t seem to have much energy or don’t want to play much.
- Their skin may be dry and their hair dull.
- Irritability/hyperactivity and even ADHD( Attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity are also possible signs of Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency.
- Mood swings or depression and poor memory are also symptoms of a deficiency.
If you think you or your child may be deficient please consult your doctor about this. They should be able to recommend good, healthy strategies for you to make up the deficiency.
In the meantime and consider making some changes in your diet to add more Omega-3s and maybe remove some processed foods. I have seen parents and kids achieve amazing results just from small changes to their diets.
As always I would love to hear your questions or comments. Please follow me on facebook
A Happy, healthy New year from my family to yours,
To your holistic health,