The fundamental principle of my work is that spirit, body and brain function as one system and should be diagnosed and treated as ONE. You may also know that I firmly believe (supported by much research) that stress is the trigger for all learning, behavior and mood problems. The stress begins in the spirit first and then cascades into the body and brain.
Treating learning and behavior problems is like peeling the layers of an onion to uncover all signs of related and intertwined stress in the spirit-body-brain pathway. When we treat the whole pathway we are able to help kids lose the symptoms and the diagnostic labels they are burdened with.
Symptoms do not happen in isolation. For example, in a previous article I wrote about Vitamin D. Think about the pathway: It has been shown that stress can disrupt vitamin D receptors, leading to D deficiency. If a child is feeling constantly stressed, vitamin D levels could be low. Treating the D deficiency without addressing the stress issues (or vice versa) would be only half the solution to the problem.
Today let’s explore the role played by Omega 3’s in many of the problems kids grapple with.
Also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development. In the body, omega-3s are broken down into easily absorbable units called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Omega-3’s are important for children’s health right from the start – actually, before they’re even born. Research shows that DHA boosts a baby’s brain development and is good for children of all ages. David Perlmutter, M.D., a leading neurologist in the field, states that DHA during pregnancy can increase a child’s IQ by age 4; newborns to 6 months have better hand-eye coordination at 2 years compared with babies who didn’t get enough; at 6 months to 2 years DHA jump starts the production of a hormone that’s crucial for brain development during this time of rapid growth and in kids of 2 to 5 years low levels of DHA in children have been linked to an increased risk of ADHD, vision problems, and depression.
Follow the Spirit-body-brain Pathway.
Recent studies show that kids low in Omega-3 essential fatty acids have significantly higher incidence of hyperactivity, learning disorders and behavioral problems. Part of the explanation is likely due to the fact that dopamine and serotonin both play a role in ADD/ADHD and other mood disorders, and our dopamine and serotonin receptors are composed of the omega-3 DHA. If we follow the pathway – sustained or chronic stress leads to elevated hormones such as cortisol, (the stress hormone) and reduced serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine, which have been linked to learning, behavior and mood problems. On the biochemical front, researchers point out that cell membranes are made up partly of omega-3. It is possible that increasing the omega-3 levels makes it easier for serotonin — a chemical that carries messages from one brain cell to another — to pass through cell membranes. “Research still needs to be done on the exact mechanisms involved,” Andrew L. Stoll MD notes in, The Omega-3 Connection, “but we do know that omega-3 does affect the membranes and changes functioning.” And increasing omega-3 “has direct effects on serotonin levels.”
Researchers at the University of Oxford have found that a child’s blood levels of long-chain Omega-3 DHA can significantly predict how well he or she is able to concentrate and learn. The study, published in June 2013, (see link below) is one of the first to evaluate blood Omega-3 levels in UK schoolchildren. Hyperactive children have also been found to have lower levels of key fatty acids in their blood when compared to other children. The hyperactive kids were also more likely to report symptoms of omega-3 deficiency such as constant thirst, dry hair and skin, asthma, and ear infections.
What are the Best Omega-3 Foods?
Omega-3 fat is an essential fat, meaning the body cannot produce it and the fat must be derived from the diet. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, other seafood including algae and krill, some plants, and nut oils. Omega-3 fat is also available in flaxseed oil, and omega-3 eggs – produced by chickens that have been fed with alfalfa, corn, soybean, and flaxseeds, which all contain this essential fat. In fact, an average-sized omega-3 egg contains approximately 320 mg of omega-3, while a regular egg contains approximately 63 mg. Although cold-water fish such as tuna and salmon are wonderful sources of protein, selenium, vitamin D, and omega-3 essential fat, the level of toxicity showing in up our tuna (mercury) and salmon (dioxins and PCBs) is disturbing.
It is important to have the proper ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 (another essential fatty acid) in the diet. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, and most omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. The typical American diet tends to contain 14 – 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids, which is considered to be way too high on the omega-6 side.
Using Omega-3 Oil as a Treatment.
A few small studies have looked at fish oil supplements as a treatment. There is some good evidence to show fish oils (or more specifically omega-3 oil) can improve children’s learning and behavior. Theory and experimental evidence support a role for omega-3 in ADHD, dyslexia, developmental coordination disorder (DCD) and autism. But we need more scientific research done on this subject – larger trials are now needed to confirm these findings, and to establish the long-term treatment effects as well as optimal formulations and dosages.
Your Action Take-Aways:
- Although current studies are conclusive, there’s good reason to make sure that if you have infants – or if you are pregnant – that they and you are getting omega 3’s such as DHA and EPA.
- Include omega-3 fats as a daily staple in your child’s diet.
- Including the foods mentioned above in your children’s diet is one way for them to obtain omega-3, but it is not enough. There is enough research on the benefits of omega-3 supplementation so be sure to incorporate this in your daily regime.
- Use a high quality Omega 3 – one that uses a cold manufacturing process, contains no fillers and no mercury.
Some Suggested Reading:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnhuW68pFWE (Note: I am not endorsing the product in this video– just the information he provides).
Dr. Howard Peiper, N., The A.D.D. and A.D.H.D. Diet
George M. Halpern, The Inflammation Revolution
Andrew L. Stoll MD, The Omega-3 Connection
Note: This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. Do not use this information for diagnosing or treating a problem. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem.