Fish oil is an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), while flaxseed oil and algal oil are excellent sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is the precursor to DHA and EPA. ALA is an essential fatty acid, which means our body cannot produce this fatty acid.
Our body has limited ability to convert ALA to DHA and EPA. This is even more so in children with ADHD. In fact, studies have shown that many children with ADHD have very low blood levels of omega 3 fatty acids. This deficiency is associated with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, apraxia, depression and anxiety. In recent years, researches and studies have shown that omega 3 fatty acids supplementation improves ADHD symptoms, such as hyperactivity, inattentiveness, aggressions, anxiety, impulsiveness, and learning difficulties. Males, in particular, have a harder time converting ALA to DHA and EPA than females.
Furthermore, the typical American diet, which is excessive in omega 6 and deficit in omega 3 fatty acids, makes the situation even worse. The optimal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is 4:1. The typical American diet provides a ratio of 20:1. That means, children will need to increase their dietary omega 3 intake by 5 times to get to the optimal 4:1 ratio.
Both DHA and EPA play important roles in the brain development. DHA has a structural role and EPA has a functional role in the brain development. EPA affects hormone metabolism, dopamine (neurotransmitter that regulates mood) metabolism and immune systems. DHA is the major structural component of nerve cells. DHA is also a major component of the retina in the eye.
As the brain develops more nerve cells, more fat, in the form of fatty acids, is needed. Omega 3 fatty acids make up about 8-10 percent of brain tissues. It is the major components of myelin sheaths on nerve cells. Myelin is the fatty coating on nerve cells. The myelin sheaths insulate nerve cells (imagine electrical wiring) to ensure smooth uninterrupted transmission of impulses, preventing misfiring of nerve impulses. The rapid myelination during early childhood is what helps brain develops.
Because of this special needs in infants and young children, fat should not be restricted. Infants and children up to 2 years old should maintain a diet of up to 50% of calories coming from fat.
Healthy fats, such as avocado, safflower oil, olive oil, organic animal fats, organic eggs, coconut oil, and organic nut oils are encouraged. Organic oils/fats are preferred because pesticides, hormones and other chemicals tend to accumulate in fatty tissues in animals and/or plants. The organic choices will help to minimize intake of these substances, which can affect brain developments and health.
Both fish oil and cod liver oil contains the omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. But cod liver oil has a higher EPA content, and it also contains vitamin A and vitamin D, which help boost immunity to fight infection.
Fish oil is better choice for children struggling with dyslexia and attentiveness for its higher DHA content. Cod liver oil would be a better choice for children with autism, frequent infection, mood swings and/or depression.
Fish oil and its components have been studied extensively. Its safety record is outstanding. In fact, it is even included in most infant formula nowadays, and recommended to pregnant and lactating women to help with the baby’s visual and brain development.