Older, larger children using omega-3 fatty acid supplements as therapy for mood disorders—as well as those taking the supplement for general brain and heart health—may need more of the essential nutrient than smaller children, leading researchers to call for new studies into weight-appropriate dosing.
The study,1 led by researchers at The Ohio State University, Columbus, piggybacked on a general study evaluating the therapeutic effects of omega-3 fatty acids in mood disorders. Researchers analyzed omega-3 supplementation in 64 children aged 7 to 14 years with mood disorders. Those given supplements during the study were given 4 capsules containing 2000 mg of omega-3 daily compared with a placebo group.
When researchers compared fatty acid uptake to overall body weight and body mass index (BMI), they found that the more a child weighed, the less amounts of 2 key omega-3 fatty acids were in the child’s blood. The higher the BMI, the lower the levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
The revelation highlights the need for weight-appropriate dosing of supplements and medication, according to the research team. In addition to mental health benefits, omega-3 supplements also have been shown to lower blood pressure and increase good cholesterol in children aged 8 to 15 years, but most studies on the benefits of omega-3 have been focused on adults or infants and small children.
L. Eugene Arnold, MD, MEd, professor emeritus of psychiatry at The Ohio State University, led the study and says the only thing that is truly certain right now is that more research is needed to find the optimal dosing for omega-3 supplements. “One of the things that this study highlights is that we really don’t know the best dose for omega-3 fatty acids,” Arnold says.
There’s evidence that omega-3 fatty acids have a small but significant and beneficial effect on patients with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). There is also limited research to support a benefit of omega-3 fatty acids for patients with mood disorders, particular depression and bipolar disorder, he says.
Although a “balanced diet” should, in theory, provide adequate amounts of these nutrients, to benefit from omega-3s naturally one would have to have a diet rich in grass-fattened game and livestock, as well as ocean fish. Eating a traditional Western diet, with farm-raised meat or fish, doesn’t offer the same benefit—balanced or not.
“How many kids eat a balanced diet and how many have the access to the grass-fattened game and livestock and the wild ocean fish and so forth?” Arnold notes. “In order to achieve the same results as a balanced diet, it’s necessary for some supplements.”
Farm-raised animals, even fish, are grain fed, which introduces omega-6 fatty acids to the body. The brain needs fatty acids to perform, and whereas omega-3 fatty acids are ideal because they provide direct sources of DHA and EPA, omega-6 can work but is not optimal.