As a parent, your child’s mental development is undoubtedly at the forefront of your concerns. You want your child to do well in school, to learn knowledge and skills that will set them on the path to success later in life. But have you considered how your child’s diet – in particular consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids – can affect his or her cognitive development? The vast majority of children do not receive sufficient Omega-3s from their diets, which can have lasting negative effects on their intelligence and cognitive ability. If your child is struggling in school and falling behind his or her peers, you may need to consider that your child is not consuming enough Omega-3s.

 

Omega-3s play a key role in improving childhood cognitive performance.

Omega-3s have been shown in clinical studies to improve children’s cognitive performance in important hallmarks like reading, spatial reasoning, and critical thinking. Supplementing the diets of children underperforming their peers has netted significant gains in overall performance. Furthermore, researchers have consistently observed that children who struggle in school exhibit low levels of Omega-3s when compared to their peers who are performing at or above their grade levels. Deficiencies in Omega-3s, on the other hand, have been proven to stunt cognitive development and have been associated with behavioral problems that further hamper a child’s ability to learn.

Is my child's concentration being impacted by an Omega-3 deficiency?

The short answer is yes. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry strongly suggests that deficiencies in Omega-3s in the blood are associated with reduced cognitive function in children. Researchers studied 307 children in Ghana, aged 2 to 6, using a “dimensional change card sort,” which required the test subjects to focus on sorting cards based on a predefined dimension, then resort them based on a switched dimension.

This task tests the ability to concentrate on a detailed task and make value judgments accordingly. Children with low levels of Omega-3s were found to be 3 to 4 times more likely to fail the test than those with normal-to-high levels. In other words, children with Omega-3 deficiencies were having trouble concentrating. If your child is unable to focus in school or at home, he or she may be experiencing an Omega-3 deficiency.

Has Omega-3 been clinically proven to impact intelligence in a developing child?

Studies and clinical trials have shown that Omega-3s play an important role in a developing baby’s brain, and that role continues into childhood. Several studies have indicated that supplementing a pregnant woman’s diet with Omega-3 supplements resulted in their children scoring higher on intelligence and brain function tests in early childhood.

Additionally, children's problem-solving, kinesthetic awareness, and critical thinking abilities are directly correlated with their Omega-3 intake – higher Omega-3 levels are associated with higher skill levels in these crucial markers of intelligence, while deficiencies have been seen to stunt development in those areas.

With your child's limited ability to synthesize Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), his/her consumption from diet is critical.

As previously mentioned, Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the dominant Omega-3 fatty acid that affects brain development and function. On their own, humans are unable to synthesize sufficient levels of DHA to maintain full cognitive function. This is especially problematic in children, who require high levels of DHA to support brain development and intellectual progress.

If children cannot synthesize DHA on their own, it must be consumed from a balanced diet. All-natural, unprocessed fish oil supplements, can provide the crucial DHA a child needs for healthy cognitive development.

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Children with a low literacy level can benefit greatly from enhanced Omega 3 intake.

Reading is a critical milestone in the process of a child’s cognitive development; indeed, a child’s “reading age” is a common litmus test for general intelligence and learning ability. Enhanced Omega-3 intake has been shown to significantly aid this process.

A 2012 study at the University of Queensland showed that Omega-3 supplements improved reading in children who had previously been performing below their grade level. When given Omega-3 supplements, the children who were the most behind (in the 10th percentile and below) gained 1.9 months in reading age. Several other studies have corroborated these results, which strongly suggests that children who are behind their peers in literacy can realize significant gains from increased Omega-3 intake.

An Oxford Study in 2013 occured where blood samples were taken from 493 schoolchildren, aged between seven and nine years, from 74 mainstream schools in Oxfordshire. All of the children were thought to have below-average reading skills, based on national assessments at the age of seven or their teachers' current judgements. Analyses of their blood samples showed that, on average, just under two per cent of the children's total blood fatty acids were Omega-3 DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and 0.5 per cent were Omega-3 EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid), with a total of 2.45 per cent for these long-chain Omega-3 combined. This is below the minimum of 4 per cent recommended by leading scientists.

Clinical Trial Evidence

Clinical evidence supporting the importance of Omega-3s in a child's cognitive development is abundant. The aforementioned studies showed that Omega-3 levels in isolation were strongly correlated with cognitive ability (2018 Ghana study) and that supplementing children’s diets with additional Omega-3s created quantifiable gains in reading ability (2012 Queensland study).

The significance of these findings extends into adolescence, as well. Additionally, a 2010 study of over 9000 Swedish students, starting at age 15, showed that by age 16, the students who consumed fish or Omega-3 supplements more than once a week had significantly higher school grades than those who did not. By age 18, the students who consumed fish or Omega-3s more than once a week had higher IQ scores than those who did not.

Researchers at Oxford University have found that Omega-3s in children’s blood levels can “significantly predict” how well the children can concentrate and learn. In that study, the children who were considered to have below-average reading abilities were found to have Omega-3 levels below the recommended levels. Conversely, higher Omega-3 levels were associated with better reading and memory, as well as fewer instances of disruptive behavior.

The significance of these findings is clear – Omega-3 deficiency can have severe consequences on a child’s ability to focus and learn new skills, while optimum Omega-3 levels can enhance cognitive development. 

Omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 LCPUFA) are crucial elements of brain maturation.

Omega-3 fatty acids are the building blocks of neuron cell membranes and neurological pathways. Omega-3s also help develop healthy blood flow in the brain which is critical for cognitive processing. This makes Omega-3s crucial for a child’s brain development in utero and during early childhood.

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A child’s brain is constantly growing, and in fact, experiences several growth spurts between the third trimester and mid-adolescence. During these growth spurts, DHA and other Omega 3 fatty acids are extremely important in regulating the proper, timely development, especially in the frontal lobes, which govern higher cognitive functions like critical thinking, logic, and learning.

Based on the various studies discussed here, which only scratch the surface of the academic literature on the topic of Omega-3 fatty acids and children’s brains, it’s clear that Omega-3s are vitally important to a child’s cognitive development. Omega-3 deficiencies can cause behavioral problems and stunted learning, while healthy Omega-3 levels have been shown to drastically improve reading, IQ, and complex reasoning.

Your child is the most important thing in your life, and your primary role is to ensure that he or she gets the best head start on the life you can provide. As the evidence has shown, ensuring your child has sufficient Omega-3 intakes, whether through regular fish consumption in the diet or Omega-3 supplements, can pay dividends in the growth of your child’s mind.