Omega-3 oils are regarded as essential nutrients, meaning they are considered necessary nutrients that should be consumed daily in the diet in order to maintain optimal health. These monounsaturated fats (‘mono’ meaning ‘one’, and ‘unsaturated’ meaning ‘healthy’ fat), are considered necessary as they provide structural support for healthy cell membranes, keep inflammation at bay, and provide nutritional support to tissues including the heart, blood vessels, skin, nerves, eyes and brain (1,2)
Importance for developing brains
In children, Omega-3 oils are essential for brain development. In utero, as well as during infancy, Omega-3 oils are needed for the building of healthy nerves, brain, eye and glandular tissue. These tissues once developed, need continued support and maintenance during childhood and into adulthood to ensure the brain is supplied with healthy blood flow, suffers limited inflammation, and experiences healthy cognitive development (3).
During times of cognitive stress or additional need, including with learning and behavioural difficulties, Omega 3’s can be increasingly important to manage in order to ensure brain, nerve and sensory tissues are supplied with the proper nutrition they need for healthy functioning (1,3).
Getting to the source
Omega-3 oils, also known as Omega-3 fatty acids, are predominantly sourced from the flesh of oily fish, some algae and flaxseeds. Oily fish such as salmon, sardines and pilchards contain the Omega-3 triglycerides EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Vegan algae sources such as the freshwater algae Schizochytrium contains mostly DHA alone. Alternate sources of omega 3 oils include flaxseeds, with oil made from crushed flaxseeds containing the fatty acid ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). The function of each of these fatty acids determines the ability of an omega oil to reduce specific kinds of inflammation, support cognition and learning, or assist in brain development (1, 2, 4). When it comes to choosing the right source of omega-3s for healthy brain and nerve tissue, those found in oily fish and algae are best suited due to their high levels of DHA.
EPA & DHA for healthy brain and nerve function
DHA is of utmost importance when it comes to supporting brain and nerve tissue, with the Global Organisation for EPA and DHA recommending 700mg of combined EPA and DHA for pregnant and breastfeeding women, with at least 300mg of the supplement containing DHA alone (4). It is important to note that when choosing an Omega-3 supplement it is wise to check the label for the levels of both EPA and DHA to ensure you are reaching adequate dosages. When it comes to children’s cognitive development, DHA, found predominantly in fish oil but also in vegan algal sources, are the most well indicated to support healthy brain function (1,2).
When choosing quality omega 3 oils from ocean-rich sources, be sure to choose oils that meet international standards for marine stewardship, ethical sustainability and whose company holds them to a strict quality standard when it comes to heavy metals, dioxins and peroxide adulteration. (5)
If you have any questions regarding how to choose the highest quality Omega-3’s for your diet or the diet of your children, a qualified naturopath can assist you in finding a quality source and prescribe effective dosing for your individual needs.