Play it Smart with Children's EFA's!

by David Perlmutter, M.D., F.A.C.N.

I am asked again and again, "If you had to recommend one dietary supplement for families to immediately add to their diets, what would it be?" My answer is always the same: Omega- 3s, essential fatty acids (EFAs) from fish oil. Most assuredly, another question follows, "What's so special about getting these EFAs from fish oil?

The elongated forms of Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, are abundant in fish oil and can be used directly by the body as demonstrated in countless studies done specifically on fish and fish oil supplementation.

Plant sources yield alpha linoleic acids (ALAs), but, to be most effective, ALA must be converted by the body into EPA and DHA, a process that can be inhibited by various lifestyle and health factors. In fact, studies verify that foods rich in ALA are inefficient at increasing cellular levels of EPA and DHA. Because there are a variety of health conditions in which the need for DHA far exceeds its rate of synthesis, dietary supplementation with pre-formed DHA, as found in fish oils, is a requirement.


Omega-3s are required by infants, not only from birth forward, but even more so during gestation. Research has shown them as critical "building blocks" for healthy humans. When the fetus doesn't receive adequate amounts of DHA, there is reduced brain and retina development. The mother's diet determines the amount of DHA available to the developing child as Omega-3 fatty acids are transported from the mother's blood into the placenta. After the child is born, the primary source of this important nutrient is breast milk. (Thus, the World Health Organization now recommends that all infant formulas be DHA-enriched.)

But DHA's importance (as well as that of its partner, EPA) doesn't stop there. Research supports the importance of Omega-3s for infants and children in powerful ways, including:

Improved memory and cognitive function

Improved visual acuity in infants

Enhanced learning and achievement

Decreased behavioral problems

Reduced aggression and hostility

Positive mood

Lowered risk of ADHD


Deficiencies in DHA and EPA along with improper ratios of Omega-3s and 6s are found in children with various learning disabilities. So why not give your kids an important head start? Generally speaking, for children between two and six years, I suggest 250-500 mg per day. For children six to 12 years, 500 to 1,000 mg per day is adequate. Your child's health provider may adjust these amounts based on specific conditions or deficiencies. Choose a product that contains both EPA and DHA as they are complementary in function and always found together in nature.


Children have sensitive and growing nervous systems, making purity and freshness a real issue for efficacy of Omega-3 oils. Given the recent exposure of high-level contamination of the world's fish supply, all roads seem to point to supplementation. So what makes a good fish oil?

Rule #1: Avoid rancid oil – it's toxic! Rancid oil sometimes causes burping or repeating.

Rule #2: Verify the absence of environmental pollutants such as dioxins, PCBs, pesticides, and heavy metals that can be dangerous to bodily functions. Ask for proof.

Rule #3: Look for high-quality raw materials. Arctic cod is more expensive for companies to use, but it is considered more beneficial than salmon in nutritive profile and taste.

At the Perlmutter Health Center, Nordic Naturals fish oils were chosen as the exclusive fish oil supplements because they have shown revolutionary freshness and purity verified by third-party testing. Nordic Naturals products are manufactured in a proprietary nitrogen (oxygen-free) environment and have been documented to have the highest freshness values available. They surpass all national and international standards for freshness and purity and are free from heavy metals and environmental toxins.


Having a child with ADHD, ADD, or autism can be especially challenging for a family. As we may suspect, EFAs are being looked at as support for these critical areas of health management. A 2002 study from Northern Ireland showed Omega-3s have positive results on dyslexic and hyperactive children seen after only 12 weeks of treatment. Fish oil supplements were also shown to help children with speech and language disorders. Omega-3s are now being recommended for autistic children. Research suggests that there is real hope that these and other conditions can be helped through nutrition. The lesson: EFAs have been proven essential.


Mention fish oils and most likely kids begin to squirm! Fortunately for parents, Nordic Naturals has conveniently solved that problem. Their flavored fish oils are available in liquid form or in flavored gel caps using only natural flavorings. Their Children's DHA comes in strawberry chewable capsules perfectly sized for small children to chew or swallow easily. If the oil itself is of interest, try their orange-or peach-flavored arctic cod liver oils. Got older kids? Lemon-flavored Omega 3.6.9 Junior covers ages three through 15.


Giving your children a healthy start along with a strong health maintenance plan can be an important gift that determines not only the quality of their life, but those of your grandchildren. There is so much we can do as parents! Remember, the road to good health is paved with omega-3 fatty acids!