Is Fish Oil Supplementation Right for Kids?
All kids need vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to be healthy and grow normally.
And just like vitamin D, iron, and calcium, kids need the omega-3 fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), that they can get from fish oils. That is why the food pyramid recommends that kids eat 'fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, and herring.'
If you kids don't eat these kinds of fish, they could need another source of omega-3 fatty acids, including other foods supplemented with fish oil, a multivitamin with DHA and EPA, or other fish oil supplements.
Fish Oil Benefits
Nutrition fads seem to come and go, even in child nutrition.
Iron used to be big among vitamins and minerals, and parents would always try to get kids to eat their spinach. As more foods became supplemented with iron, parents seemed to shift their focus to vitamin C.
Fish oil may be the new nutrition fad, even though most parents should likely focus on calcium and vitamin D since many kids don't drink enough milk.
Why is fish oil popular? Is it because fish oil is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are thought to lower triglyceride levels? Or because fish oil benefits include that it may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and slightly reduce high blood pressure?
Other fish oil benefits that may have made it popular include claims to help ADHD, asthma, arthritis, abnormal heart rhythms, and that it may help prevent some types of cancer.
The claims that it may help promote brain development is likely the fish oil benefit that most parents focus on though, and which makes fish oil so popular. Unfortunately, there are many conflicting studies about fish oil benefits, and not all studies have even shown that they have any benefit at all.
Sources of Fish Oil
In addition to fish oil pills and supplements, you can get fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids from a few foods, including:
Fatty fish, including herring, rainbow trout, mackerel, salmon, and sardines, which have the highest levels of DHA and EPA
Other fish, including pollock, flounder, scallops, clams, shrimp, catfish, canned albacore tuna, canned light tuna, and even fish sticks, all of which have lower levels of DHA and EPA than fatty fish
Cod liver oil
DHA-fortified foods and drinks, such as Yotoddler yogurt and Juicy Juice with DHA
Other non-fish sources of omega-3 fatty acids can include:
Flaxseeds, walnuts, soybeans, tofu, and flaxseed, canola and soybean oils - in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
Most brands of baby formula, which are now fortified with DHA and ARA to make them more like breast milk, which has omega-3 fatty acids
Baby food fortified with DHA, such as Beech-Nut DHA PLUS
Other DHA-fortified foods (check food labels), including Horizon Organic Milk Plus DHA Omega-3, PediaSure, Sara Lee Soft & Smooth Plus 100% Whole Wheat Bread, Silk Wellness Soy Milk (Silk DHA Omega-3 & Calcium), and Mission Life Balance Flour Tortillas, etc.
Most of these foods that are fortified with DHA use algae, a vegetarian source of DHA. If they simply say that they have naturally occurring omega-3 fatty acids, then they likely have small amounts of ALA, and not DHA and EPA.
Keep in mind that although DHA-fortified foods have much less DHA than most fish, your kids will likely eat and drink them more often and with other DHA-fortified foods. For example one cup of Silk Wellness Soy Milk only has 32mg of DHA and EPA vs. the 330mg in albacore tuna or over 3000mg in salmon, but kids can only eat limited amounts of fish, while he might drink two or three cups of DHA-fortified milk each day, in addition to other foods with DHA and EPA.
Fish Oil Dosage
The American Heart Association recommends that all adults eat a variety of fish, preferably those high in omega-3 fatty acids, at least twice a week, and also eat foods rich in ALA, such as flaxseeds, walnuts, soybeans, tofu, and flaxseed, canola and soybean oils.1 Adults with coronary heart disease should make sure they get at least 1000mg each day and even higher doses if they have high triglyceride levels.
Although there aren't specific recommendations about fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids for kids, the food pyramid does advise that it is important to include fish, nuts, and seeds in a child's diet. And it may not be a hearty endorsement, but they do state that there is 'some limited evidence that suggests eating fish rich in EPA and DHA may reduce the risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease.'
The usual fish oil dosage for kids, if they are getting their fish oil from actually eating fish, is two servings a week.2 There isn't a more specific mg per day recommendation for DHA and ARA for kids yet.
When serving fish to kids, parents should keep all fish and mercurywarnings in mind, including that they limit canned albacore tuna to no more than once a week. Young kids can eat other fish that are lower in mercury, such as canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish, twice a week. And remember that women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children should not eat any shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish at all since they can have high levels of mercury.