Have you ever asked yourself this question, “what is DHA and what does it have to do with my child’s health?” Here is some information on what DHA is, some facts about what the body uses it for and tests and research concerning DHA supplementation.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid that comes from fish oil. It is the longest and most unsaturated of the omega-3 fatty acids and is considered physiologically essential in the proper growth and development of the brain, nervous system and retina to support optimal cognitive function. DHA actually accumulates in the brain our first couple years of life; no other omega fatty acid does this. At birth DHA makes up about 93% of the omega-3 acids in the retina and 97% of the omega-3 fatty acids in the brain and continue to increase as the brain develops during the first 2 years of life and after based on measures in the cerebral cortex up to 18 years of age. Basically; DHA=brain food.
When pertaining to the brain, DHA, sometimes combined with EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) in supplementation, is vital for proper brain function. It is found in high concentrations coating components of the neural membranes (providing fluidity and permeability) where it has been found to play an important role in the ability of the brain to send and receive clear signals and thus function properly. Basically, if you think of the nerves as electrical wires in that they send electrical impulses and have a coating to keep the current within the wire and transmitting smoothly; the coating on our nerves is made of a high content of omega-3 fatty acids most of which is DHA. Meaning the more DHA in your brain the better it can work.
What does this have to do with children’s health? In doing the research for this article I found there have been many studies (some of which can be found on dhaomega3.org) that show a correlation between cognitive function, some behavior issues, learning ability, memory, some reading disabilities, grades in school, visual acuity and levels of DHA in the brain. From the womb and beyond DHA plays an important role in development. Babies whose mothers got at least 200-300mg of DHA per day while pregnant have been shown to have better visual acuity at 16 and 30 weeks. Breast-feeding mothers or babies who need formula can supplement with DHA food supplements and formulas that contain DHA.
In Sweden a study was conducted of 15 year old school children and found that those who consumed fish high in omega-3’s more than once per week had 15% higher grades than those who consumed fish less than once a week. Not only that, another study showed cumulative benefits from prolonged ingestion of DHA may eventually over time have positive effects on school performance. In this study a daily intake of 127mg of DHA+55mg of EPA, as gotten from fish oil, embedded in bread spread was given to 7-9 year olds over a 6 month period. The control group had less than 20% of that intake.
The supplemented kids had improvement (based on the Hopkins Verbal Learning Test) in recognition by 9%, discrimination index improvement of 20% and the same with the spelling test. DHA even seems to have a positive effect on dyslexia; after taking 480mg of DHA+108mg of EPA+ a lower level of GLA(gamma-linolenic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid) for 20 weeks the 12 year olds showed a 60% improvement on reading tests. It should be noted however this was an open-pilot trial. More studies are being done and need to be done but this is certainly an interesting beginning.
An encouraging study showed that a DHA/EPA combination given to autistic 5-17 year olds lessened their hyperactive symptoms. Studies are on-going to find the right combination levels of DHA/EPA and dosage to help these kids. Other problems such as ADHD could be caused by metabolic differences in fatty acid metabolism, causing fatty acid profiles that are out of whack, including lower levels of DHA causing poor information transmission in nerves. Scientists are researching what combination of omega-3 and omega-6 supplementation could help with certain aspects of ADHD behaviors.
The big deal with DHA and even a DHA/EPA combination is that it has been shown to be imperative for developmental health in kids and people of all ages especially as we get older. All in all it is recommended that kids get at least 100-150mg of DHA from the food they eat. One way to do that is by providing a low contaminate fish a couple times a week, or tuna from a can. Be careful, a lot of fish contain mercury, pesticides, toxins and dioxins; high levels are not good for anyone let alone children.
If you decide on a food supplement make sure you find a reputable company that goes through rigorous standard quality testing, preferably several quality control tests and outside laboratory testing. Some companies on the store shelves have been recalled due to unsafe levels of PCBs. You are looking for a pharmaceutical grade form of DHA, one that has gone through filtration more than two times.
With so much going on in our kids’ lives and all the stimulation, it may be wise to give their brains some extra food. DHA and DHA/EPA combo are one way to give them the tools they need to be able to concentrate and use their minds to the best of their capabilities. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and fish low in contaminates or a food supplement are the best way to do this.
For More Information About Health and Children’s Vitamins Click These Links:
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Filed under: Childrens Nutrition
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