It's been a rough few decades when it comes to kids' health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity in the United States has doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
Not only that, but they're eating a diet made up primarily of hot dogs, hamburgers, cheese, sweetened, ready-to-eat cereals and other processed foods, so they're taking in too much fat, complex carbs and sodium.
As a result, kids are developing type 2 diabetes, a disease that was once reserved for people much older, as well as high blood pressure and the early signs of cardiovascular disease. (Ref. 1)
Kids who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults as well, putting them at a higher risk of stroke, osteoarthritis and a wide range of cancers including cancers of the breast, colon, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, prostate and esophagus, the CDC said.
While eating a healthy diet and getting an hour of exercise each day are the best moves kids can make for better health, there are other things that can be part of a healthier future.
According to the experts, if there’s one ingredient that can make a difference in children’s health, it’s DHA.
One of the two main fatty acids in fish oil (the other being EPA) DHA or docosahexaenoic acid, has been linked to a wide range of health benefits, but it’s woefully lacking in our diets, thanks to the consumption of less fish as well as there being less nutrients in our vegetables and grains we eat due to overused and nutrient-depleted soils.
DHA is the primary structural component of the human brain, and is essential for brain health. Recent studies have linked a lack of DHA to a wide range of health problems, especially in children, so it’s a good time to take a closer look at this important fatty acid.
DHA and the war on obesity
Omega-3 fatty acids play a key role in how we metabolize calories, so the lack of DHA in our diets could contribute to the increased weight gain in children, nutritional experts say.
A 2010 National Taiwan University study found that DHA may help regulate inflammation, which has been linked to not only obesity, but also a wide range of diseases including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The presence of DHA helped two metabolic regulators – white adipose tissue and the liver – function better, leading to improved metabolism so the body is better able to burn calories and stored body fat efficiently.
Low levels of DHA while in utero have also been linked to obesity in kids, meaning moms should supplement during pregnancy to ensure that their babies have enough DHA for healthy body function at the beginning of their lives as well.
The brain benefits of DHA
“Children require omega-3 fatty acids the same way they require vitamins,” says Evelyn Tribole, a registered dietician and author of the books “The Ultimate Omega-3 Diet” and “Intuitive Eating. “
She compares the need for DHA for brain health to the need for calcium for bone health, and said that kids who don’t get enough of the essential element especially during early childhood, when the brain experiences rapid growth, are putting their emotional and intellectual development at risk.
Studies have shown that kids who have lower levels of DHA also have lower than average reading scores and less retention and memory.
A study from Australia found that children without learning disabilities who had poor reading skills were more likely to have low levels of omega-3s than their classmates who were better readers, suggesting that the brain’s ability to learn and function is closely linked to DHA.
The 2011 study – which appeared in the journal Nutrition - also found that those with lower levels of DHA were also more likely to have behavioral issues, according to their parents.
ADHD and the DHA connection
According to the CDC, more than 10 percent of children ages 4 to 17 were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in 2011, a number that has been rising steadily since 1996. (Ref. 2)
Research suggests that DHA deficiency could be a major contributor.
Studies have also shown that kids who have less DHA in their diets are more likely to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other learning or behavioral issues. In fact, according to ADHD Clinic, a website devoted to educating people about the disorder, low levels of certain essential fatty acids including DHA and EPA have been linked to ADHD.
According to estimates, an ADHD diagnosis costs as much as $17,000 per year to treat, and some of the drugs used are showing up on lawsuit advertisements because some have been revealed to disrupt hormones and lead to physical abnormalities as serious as enlarged breasts (gynecomastia) – and sometimes lactation – in boys when they hit puberty.
In a study of 100 boys, those with low levels of the two omega-3 fatty acids showed more learning and behavioral problems including temper tantrums and sleep disturbances than those with higher levels.
In animal studies, low levels of DHA have been linked to low levels of dopamine and serotonin, the feel-good chemicals that are also related to attention span and motivation.
DHA and sleep
A new study also found that kids who have higher levels of DHA sleep better, which could be linked to not only the improved learning skills, but also the behavioral issues. (Imagine how hard it is for you to function after a night spent tossing and turning. Kids are no different.)
As part of the study from Oxford University in England – the first to link sleep and fatty acids in healthy kids children who took omega-3 DHA supplements for 16 weeks slept nearly an hour longer per night than those who didn’t, and also reported fewer waking episodes. (Ref. 3)
“Various substances made within the body from omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have long been known to play key roles in the regulation of sleep,” said lead author Paul Montgomery, Ph.D. “For example, lower ratios of DHA have been linked with lower levels of melatonin, and that would fit with our finding that sleep problems are greater in children with lower levels of DHA in their blood.”
At the start of the study, parents reported than four in 10 of those participating reported clinical-levels sleep problems. By study’s end, the sleep problems had improved significantly for those taking the DHA supplements compared to those taking a placebo.
“Previous studies we have published showed that blood levels of omega-3 DHA in this general population sample of seven to nine-year-olds were alarmingly low overall, and this could be directly related to the children’s behavior and learning,” said co-investigator Dr. Alex Richardson of Oxford University. “Poor sleep could well help to explain some of those associations.”
Our latest pint-sized product
With so many health benefits linked to this important nutrient, it seemed obvious we needed to add this to our range of nutritional supplements.
Our Omega/DHA Fish Oil Mini gels are half the size of traditional fish oil supplements, so they’re easier to swallow but they offer all the same benefits as our full-sized soft gels, making them perfect for kids.
It has high levels of DHA for brain and heart health support, and as well as the many other benefits associated with Omega 3’s.
This is a great option for your kids or adults who prefer smaller soft gel capsules.