Kids grow up so fast! A common, but true expression. Children grow and develop rapidly, reaching milestone after milestone in quick succession. As they grow, nutrition is necessary for a child’s robust health. One key nutrient that influences many parts of children’s healthy growth is omega-3 fatty acids.
Children may be picky eaters and tend towards high-reward, quick-release foods like sugar, processed foods, and fatty foods. But helping support your child’s nutrition is vital for their development. One common deficiency is omega-3 fatty acids. Don’t let your child’s aversion to fish keep them from getting the healthy fat they need.
It is important to pay attention to your child’s nutrition early in their life. So many of the body’s systems are rapidly developing during childhood and supporting their progress with nutrition is pivotal. Brain function, healthy immune systems, and the prevention and treatment of mood disorders are all linked to proper levels of fatty acids. These fatty acids are also excellent sources of energy for your child’s heart, lungs, and glands.
Fatty Acids in the Immune System
Decades of research support the role of omega-3 fatty acids in a well-functioning immune system. Its anti-inflammatory qualities are documented in a wide variety of articles and studies. Researchers continue to study how exactly fatty acids support the immune system or what parts it affects.
An overview of current research shows fatty acids supporting both the immediate response of the immune system and the regulation of the immune system. Omega-3 fatty acids make your immune system more efficient and well-organized. Fatty acids lead to a better first defense in your immune system. With the proper levels of fatty acids in the body, first response cells fight off infection better and do an improved job calling for reinforcements.
Fatty acids are effective in your long-term response to infection and disease. After first defense cells call for the body’s reinforcements and signal an invading infection, the body response leads to inflammation as the body focuses attention on eliminating the threat. Cells will kill themselves and parts of the surrounding area in order to wipe out the hazard. This attack response and resulting inflammation is normal and important for your body’s defense. However, sometimes that response is too widespread or continues longer than necessary. Chronic inflammation may result.
This is where fatty acids can help. Fatty acids help turn off the attack signals when the time is right, and they assist the body recover from the fight, so inflammation does not linger. They also help keep the fight from spreading and becoming overly widespread. Not only do fatty acids help with the body’s first defense, but also with turning off your body’s onslaught, keeping inflammation down.
Adding omega-3 fatty acids to your child’s diet may help their immune system develop and function properly and efficiently.
Feed Their Brains: Fatty Acids’ Influence on Children’s Brains
Another area that clearly shows benefits from fatty acids is the brain. Many studies show healthy brain function depends on fatty acids. It’s been linked to mood, learning, memory, proper signaling and more. As with other areas of research, most studies focus on adults, and few show the effects on children. However, fatty acids do play an important role in the development of certain parts of the brain and nervous system. Ensuring children have sufficient essential fatty acids helps support the proper development of these systems. Beyond these known developmental factors, fatty acids’ potential to address or prevent certain disorders has been researched.
Studies are beginning to connect several different cognitive disorders with low levels of fatty acids. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and low overall reading and logic performance are associated with low levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Mood disorders, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, and eating disorders also correlate to low fatty acids. However, in some cases, further research needs to be conducted to test the influence of fatty acid supplementation on these disorders. Is it a result of deficiency? Or is the body unable to properly metabolize these fatty acids? Simple supplementation does not always result in improved fatty acid levels.
A few of these disorders do have research supporting the positive influence of fatty acid supplementation. Studies of at-risk youths and children for several mood disorders show that supplementing omega-3 fatty acids had positive effects on depression, anorexia, and bipolar. Limited research on anxiety disorders also yields promising results. Both ADHD and ASD have more mixed results. Studies seem to have improvement in social function and hyperactivity in children with ASD. And some studies found improved focus in children with ADHD. It is unlikely to the answer to every child’s brain function needs, but has great potential for helping support healthy brain function.
What foods have the fats children need?
Certain fatty acids cannot be created by the body, so eating them or taking a supplement is the only option. Because of this, you should incorporate either a source of healthy fat into your child’s diet or begin taking an effective omega-3 fatty acid supplement.
Certain types of fatty acids are found primarily in fish, like salmon or lake trout. Others are common in plant-based foods. Flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, and microalgae are excellent sources of healthy fats. If these foods are not appealing to your children, you can also use oils high in polyunsaturated fats. Flaxseed and soybean oils are quality options.
Children may prefer chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese, but supporting proper nutrition supports their healthy development. Omega-3 fatty acids help children’s immune systems, brains, central nervous systems, and more. Find ways to add these essential fatty acids to their diet or add a supplement that will help keep their fatty acids levels where they should be.