Omega-3 fatty acids are a crucial component of a healthy diet.
These essential fats are especially important for children, as they play a key role in growth and development and are associated with numerous health benefits (1).
However, many parents are unsure whether omega-3 supplements are necessary — or even safe — for their children.
This article takes an in-depth look at the benefits, side effects, and dosage recommendations of omega-3 supplements to determine whether kids should take them.
Omega-3s are fatty acids that are integral to many aspects of health, including fetal development, brain function, heart health, and immunity (2).
They’re considered essential fatty acids because your body cannot produce them on its own and needs to obtain them from food.
The three main types are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
ALA is present in a variety of plant foods, including vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and certain vegetables. Yet, it isn’t active in your body, and your body only converts it into active forms, such as DHA and EPA, in very small amounts (3, 4).
While many types of omega-3 supplements exist, some of the most common are fish oil, krill oil, and algae oil.
Omega-3 fats are essential fatty acids that play a central role in several aspects of your health. ALA, EPA, and DHA are the three main types available in foods and supplements.
Many studies suggest that omega-3 supplements offer several benefits for children.
May improve symptoms of ADHD
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common condition linked to symptoms like hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and difficulty focusing (5).
Some research indicates that omega-3 supplements may help decrease ADHD symptoms in children.
A 16-week study in 79 boys showed that taking 1,300 mg of omega-3s daily improved attention in those with and without ADHD (7).
Could reduce asthma
Asthma is a chronic condition that affects children and adults, causing symptoms like chest pain, breathing difficulties, coughing, and wheezing (9).
Some studies have found that omega-3 fatty acid supplements help relieve these symptoms.
Another study in 135 children associated a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids with a reduction in asthma symptoms caused by indoor air pollution (11).
Promotes better sleep
Sleep disturbances affect nearly 4% of children under age 18 (14).
One study in 395 children tied lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids to a higher risk of sleep problems. It also found that supplementing with 600 mg of DHA over 16 weeks decreased sleep interruptions and led to nearly 1 more hour of sleep per night (15).
However, more high-quality studies regarding omega-3s and sleep in children are needed.
Enhances brain health
In a 6-month study, 183 children who ate a spread high in omega-3 fatty acids experienced improved verbal learning ability and memory (19).
Similarly, a small, 8-week study in 33 boys linked 400–1,200 mg of DHA daily to increased activation of the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain responsible for attention, impulse control, and planning (20).
Research has found that omega-3 fatty acids may enhance brain health, promote better sleep, and improve ADHD and asthma symptoms.
The side effects of omega-3 supplements, such as fish oil, are generally very mild. The most common ones include (24):
- bad breath
- unpleasant aftertaste
- stomach upset
Make sure your kid sticks to the recommended dosage to reduce their risk of side effects. You can also start them on a lower dose, increasing gradually to assess tolerance.
Those who are allergic to fish or shellfish should avoid fish oil and other fish-based supplements, such as cod liver oil and krill oil.
Instead, opt for other foods or supplements rich in omega-3s like flaxseed or algal oil.
Omega-3 supplements are linked to mild side effects like bad breath, headaches, and digestive issues. Stick to the recommended dosage and avoid fish-based supplements in cases of fish or shellfish allergies.
Daily needs for omega-3s depend on age and gender. If you’re using supplements, it’s best to follow the instructions on the package.
Notably, ALA is the only omega-3 fatty acid with specific dosage guidelines. The recommended daily intakes for ALA in children are (3):
- 0–12 months: 0.5 grams
- 1–3 years: 0.7 grams
- 4–8 years: 0.9 grams
- Girls 9–13 years: 1.0 grams
- Boys 9–13 years: 1.2 grams
- Girls 14–18 years: 1.1 grams
- Boys 14–18 years: 1.6 grams
Fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and plant oils are all excellent sources of omega-3s that you can easily add to your child’s diet to boost their intake.
Consider supplements if your child doesn’t regularly eat fish or other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Still, to prevent any adverse effects, it’s best to consult a trusted healthcare professional before starting your child on supplements.
Your child’s omega-3 needs vary by age and gender. Including omega-3-rich foods in their diet can ensure children are meeting their requirements. Before giving them supplements, talk to a medical practitioner.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for maintaining your child’s overall health.
Omega-3s are especially beneficial for kids’ brain health. They may also aid sleep quality and reduce symptoms of ADHD and asthma.
Providing plenty of foods high in omega-3s can help ensure that your child is meeting their daily needs. If you opt for supplements, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional to ensure proper dosage.