Paediatrics and omega-3

No-one is ever totally ready for parenthood, whether it’s the first or second child, because the responsibility is so great that natural human selfishness disappears in seconds; from the moment their child is born, and without clearly understanding how, the parents’ principle goal becomes ensuring the absolute wellbeing of this real, defenceless person who until now has only been seen in ultrasound images. It’s an inexplicable, yet marvellous, sensation, although generally filled with a flood of doubts that arise as the child grows.

Omega-3 consumption in children is highly recommendable for proper growth.

Various studies have been carried out, mainly in newborns, linking cognitive improvement and the development of sight with DHA ingestion in particular, which further strengthened the need to ensure adequate intake during the growth and development of newborns (1).

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the most abundant omega-3 in the brain, where it plays a key structural role, while both DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are the basis for a large amount of substances that regulate brain function (2).

In other words, omega-3 supplementation helps the child’s cognitive and neurological development. Furthermore, it has an effect on efficient information processing in later childhood (long-term cognitive development).

Apparently, in a follow-up study on 6-year-old children who received a diet reinforced with omega-3 during the first four months of life, the children’s test answers were no more correct than in the control group, but were significantly faster (3).

It may not produce positive effects in the first months of life, before the important development of executive cognitive functions, such as memory, speech retention or task organisation, (which occur after 18 months) but such effects were observed later in children who had received supplements from the first months. In a longitudinal study comparing the cognitive development of children fed with DHA-enriched infant formulas to children with unenriched infant formulas, the significant differences between both types of food did not appear until three and five years later, with respect to significant benefits in rule learning and executive inhibition tasks, five years, with respect to vocabulary, and six years with respect to IQ (4).

Why choose omega-3?

  • Studies show DHA supplementation to be effective and safe for improving reading skills in healthy children with a poor academic performance (2,5) and has been associated with improvements in memory (6), as well as behaviour, learning (7) and sleep (8).
  • In particular, omega-3 can have a positive impact on neurological disorders such as dislexia (9), coordination development disorder (10) and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (10).
  • Diets rich in antioxidants and omega-3 can significantly reduce the prevalence and incidence of asthma, allergic rhinitis and atopic dermatitis (even in children with a hereditary predisposition to atopia) (11).


1. Gil-Campos M, Dalmau Serra J; Comité de Nutrición de la Asociación Española de Pediatría. [Importance of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): Functions and recommendations for its ingestion in infants]. An Pediatr (Barc). 2010 Sep;73(3):142.e1-8. 2. Richardson A. Background to the DOLAB Studies: Omega-3 and Child Behaviour and Learning. Omega-3 DHA and Children’s Behaviour and Learning: New Insights from the ‘DOL AB’ Studies. 4 September 2013 – The Royal College of Surgeons, London. [cited 2014 Apr 15]. 3. Willatts P, Forsyth S, Agostoni C, et al. Effects of long-chain PUFA supplementation in infant formula on cognitive function in later childhood. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Aug;98(2):536S-542S. 4. Colombo J, Carlson SE, Cheatham CL, et al. Long-term effects of LCPUFA supplementation on childhood cognitive outcomes. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013Aug;98(2):403-412. 5. Richardson AJ, Burton JR, Sewell RP, et al. Docosahexaenoic acid for reading, cognition and behavior in children aged 7-9 years: a randomized, controlled trial (the DOLAB Study). PLoS One 2012;7(9):e43909. [cited 2014 Apr 15]. 6. Dalton A, Wolmarans P, Witthuhn RC, et al. A randomised control trial in schoolchildren showed improvement in cognitive function after consuming a bread spread, containing fish flour from a marine source. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2009;80:143-9. 7. Kuratko CN, Barrett EC, Nelson EB, Salem N Jr. The relationship of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) with learning and behavior in healthy children: a review. Nutrients. 2013 Jul 19;5(7):2777-2810. [cited 2014 Apr 15]. 8. Montgomery P. Omega-3 DHA and Children’s Sleep: New findings from the DOLAB Studies. Omega-3 DHA and Children’s Behaviour and Learning: New Insights from the ‘DOLAB’ Studies. 4 September 2013 – The Royal College of Surgeons, London. [cited 2014 Apr 16]. 9. Schuchardt JP, Huss M, Stauss-Grabo M, Hahn A. Significance of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) for the development and behaviour of children. Eur J Pediatr. 2010;169:149-64. 10. Gow RV, Vallee-Tourangeau F, Crawford MA, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids are inversely related to callous and unemotional traits in adolescent boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2013 Jun;88(6):411-8. 11. Saadeh D, Salameh P, Baldi I, Raherison C. Diet and Allergic Diseases among Population Aged 0 to 18 Years: Myth or Reality? Nutrients. 2013 Aug 29;5(9):3399-423. [cited 2014 Apr 15].

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