Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are omega-3 and omega-6 nutrients crucial to brain growth and development. Lack of EFAs has been associated with mental and physical learning disorders like ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), dyslexia and dyspraxia. The most important structural omega-3 fatty acid in the brain is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and the most important structural omega-6 fatty acid in the brain is arachidonic acid (AA). A large proportion of the human brain is composed of DHA and AA. Each of these is important building blocks of your brain, nervous system and eye, with DHA being the most abundant fatty acid in the brain. EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid, another important omega-3 fatty acid) and AA help in the transmission of messages between nerves.
Studies on infants show the supply of DHA and AA in early life is critical for good brain and visual development. Research with children has shown that:
- Children with ADHD had lower than normal levels of DHA, AA, and EPA.
- Those with the lowest levels of AA and DHA had the highest incidence and severity of oppositional behaviour, hyperactivity, cognitive problems, restlessness, and inattention.
- Children with ADHD may not be able to adequately convert dietary EFAs to their long chain DHA and AA forms.
EFA supplements based on decades of extensive scientific research to ensure the right balance of DHA, EPA, GLA (Gamma-linolenic acid, an important omega-6 fatty acid) and AA have been studied in numerous human clinical trials. These clinical trials have shown that long-chain EFAs:
- Improve behavioural, emotional and cognitive symptoms in children with learning difficulties and ADHD-related symptoms.
- Enhance problem solving abilities in infants.
- Are important in development of childhood intelligence.
- Generate a measurable increase in mental development in infants.
- Protect and enhance visual acuity and retinal function in dyslexics
- Improve manual dexterity, balance and co-ordination in children with dyspraxia
Generally, if lack of these fatty acids was the issue, kids start to show improvements in behaviour and schoolwork within the first 2 months. Most of the studies in this area lasted 3-6 months. Supplementing with specific science based formulas based on proven amounts of specific fatty acids like DHA, EPA, GLA and AA is a good choice because these nutrients are not always readily available in foods. Omega-3 in particular is often lacking in the diet, especially if cold-water fish is not often on the menu. Some people also have difficulty digesting and converting food sourced EFAs into the important long chain forms like EPA, DHA, and GLA mentioned earlier. You can find formulations that include these specific fatty acids in both capsule and liquid forms, giving some flexibility on how you’d like your kids to take it. With summer ending and school returning soon, key fatty acids like these can help children re-focus for the school year ahead and concentrate and retain their lessons better than ever.