Every parent wants to improve their child's life, even if it means working late or making sacrifices. The desire to see their little one live a happy and healthy life exists inside every loving mother and father.
When it comes to health and wellbeing, sadly it can be difficult to know what to believe. Hype builds up a certain food or supplement, only for it to be knocked down years later by contradicting research.
Fish oil, a type of oil often obtained from cod, krill and salmon, is one particular substance that received a lot of attention in the mid-2000's. Touted as a potential cure to heart disease, depression, and joint pain, people rushed to their local health store in droves to pick up a bottle of this latest wonder product.
Almost a decade on, more research has been done into fish oil, its benefits, and its drawbacks. A clearer picture has been formed of its potential and its limitations. Mothers and fathers looking to include the food item in their family's diet now have more info to go on than ever before. So, is this product all it's cracked up to be? Can fish oil actually make the family, children especially, happier, healthier and 'less naughty'?
A Brief Look at the Background of Fish Oil
Knowing the background of fish oil isn't essential, but it is beneficial. There's just something about a time-tested remedy that's reassuring to the over-anxious minds of parents.
Cod liver oil, the strange tasting liquid you may remember being force fed as a child, dates back to the 19th century. Used originally as a source of vitamin D, it eventually came to prominence in the perception of mainstream culture once official studies were carried out on Inuits. This culture, living all the way up in not-so-sunny Greenland, suffered from fewer heart complaints than the average Westerner at the time.
Studies on its potential appeared promising, and this supplement would eventually become one of the most-used worldwide. But, what does the research actually say about fish oil, and does it live up to its reputation?
The Benefits of Fish Oil for Toddlers
Traditionally, fish oil was used as a nutritional supplement and immune booster. Those in colder climates would use this ever-available substance to compensate for the lack of sunlight in their country.
As fish oil was studied, however, more benefits became known – ones which have the possibility to alter the health of people taking it for the better.
In the United States, a country known for its high number of cardiovascular patients, fish oil was touted as a way to reduce the disease's fatality levels. The theory behind this was simple: Japan, a country where fish oil is consumed as part of the average person's diet, suffered far fewer instances of heart disease than the US.
Research later confirmed that fish oil could indeed improve a person's heart health.
As time passed, even more benefits were confirmed. This time, benefits that could help the whole family, including infants, toddlers and children. Fish oil demonstrated exciting brain-boosting benefits. Not only did it lower children's stress levels in controlled studies, it also helped aid the symptoms of anxiety, childhood depression, and ADHD. While research into the benefits of fish oil for children with ADHD is ongoing, initial results appear promising. Children with ADHD are far more likely to show symptoms of omega-3 deficiency, meaning supplementation could prove helpful when dealing with the condition.
Consuming Fish Oil
One of the most pressing questions parents have when it comes to fish oil for toddlers is regarding consumption. "What's the best way for a child to consume fish oil?" they ask.
The answer to that question really depends on how much fish oil your child needs and how much of it you want to give them. If you'd simply like to include more of it in your child's diet, then sardines, salmon, mackerel, and other oily fish will all provide a source of it. Eating this oily fish once or twice a week will be more than enough. Too much DHA for infants is as damaging as too little.
If, however, you're looking to provide your child with larger doses, perhaps to help them deal with immune problems or mood problems, you'll need to opt for supplementation. Supplementation actually has other benefits, too – practical ones:
- Supplements, for example, are easier for your child to consume; swallowing a spoonful of liquid is easier than eating a whole portion of fish.
- Supplements also prevent your child from getting bored of meals that contain seafood; if your child is fussy, they're unlikely to eat the fish you cook for them, and therefore, they won't get its full benefit.
- Supplementation also gives parents the chance to monitor their child's reaction to fish oil; if adverse reactions take place, they'll be easier to spot.
Is Fish Oil Safe for Infants and Other Children?
When taking any new supplement, the first thing everybody wants to know is whether it's safe. Parents are no different. The thought of giving a supplement to a young child may fill them with apprehension and dread. "They're too young," these parents may say to themselves.
"They don't even need fish oil anyway."
Search forums such as Mumsnet and BabyCentre and you'll see parents from far and wide asking similar questions frequently. "Fish oil for infants: is it safe?"
The official answer to this question is yes, fish oil supplements are safe for young children, as is fish oil from natural sources. The oil itself contains nothing you'll need to be wary of; however, there are a few exceptions to that statement.
Below, we'll look in more depth at what kind of toddlers are ideal candidates for fish oil and supplementation, and what kind aren't. While fish oil is something lots of doctors recommend for people of all ages, there are always exceptions to such every rule!
Who Shouldn't Take Fish Oil?
Unfortunately, certain children are likely to be sensitive to the effects of fish oil. Parents of these children are advised to consult their family doctor before giving their child the oil, or better still, to avoid it altogether.
If you're a parent of one of these children, you might be disappointed. You may have been excited about the potential benefits that fish oil could offer. You may be disheartened to hear that fish oil isn't for your child. While this is indeed unfortunate, your child's health is of primary importance, which is why it's best to play it safe.
Here is a quick list of children that might need to avoid fish oil in all forms.
- Vegetarian or vegan children; as fish oil comes from the flesh of a fish, it's unsuitable for those avoiding animal products. Of course, avoiding fish oil if you're raising your child a vegetarian is optional. Some parents choose to allow their child to consume small amounts of animal products when it makes sense from a health perspective.
- Children with allergies to seafood; giving your child fish oil if they're allergic to it could damage their health. It could even cause a severe allergic reaction. If your child has reacted to fish before, it's worth skipping the oil altogether, just to be sure
- Children with bleeding disorders are also advised to avoid fish oil. The oil can worsen the disorder and may make it more unpredictable.
- Children taking anticoagulants; the fish oil can interfere with the drug, making its job that much harder. The amount of fish that can be consumed by a child taking anticoagulants must be decided by a health practitioner.
Surprisingly, children taking ADHD medication are permitted to take fish oil. The oil doesn't interfere with the drugs, meaning parents are free to experiment if they wish to.
Recommended Supplement Brands
If you want to give your child fish oil and have decided to use supplements to help them meet their required intake levels, you'll want to opt for a quality supplement. Not all have been created equally, which means picking a premium product is extremely important.
First, a warning to let you know what to look out for. Try to avoid sugar alcohols, preservatives and artificial sweeteners. These can negate the health benefits offered by the supplement.
Several recommended omega-3 supplements for toddlers, infants and children include:
- Nordic Naturals DHA Infant
- Martek Life's DHA Omega-3 DHA
- Omega 3/DHA Mini Gels by xtend-life
- Dr. Sears' Fish Oil for Toddlers
- NatureMade Fish Oil Pearls
All of the above supplements are suitable for children, they're also of the good quality. You'll be able to buy any of these supplements from a reputable health store online, without breaking the bank.
Side Effects of Fish Oil
While fish oil for infants has many profound benefits, it's not without side effects. Before you panic, don't worry, many of these side effects are mild and are usually short-lived. Many can also be reduced or eliminated by lowering the dosage of fish oil.
Here are several of the most common side effects to watch out for:
- Increased risk of bleeding (only when taking very high doses)
- Increased risk of nausea, bloating, stomach pains, diarrhea, or skin rash
- Fishy aftertaste, especially when taking it for the first time. Belching isn't uncommon, although can often be avoided when taking a quality supplement.
If, at any point, side effects of the fish oil become overwhelming, stop consuming it and see your doctor. Same applies for signs of an allergy. Fish oil is meant to make your child healthy, so don't continue with it if the opposite occurs.
There is currently no recommended dosage for DHA and essential fatty acids when given to children. That, however, doesn't mean there isn't an optimum dose.
When checking product labels, try to find a supplement with close to twice as much EPA compared to DHA. This helps ensure bodily balances remain in order, and that the supplement is as effective as possible.
The products mentioned above all have optimum levels of omega-3 fatty acids in them, providing the perfect fish oil dosage for toddlers and young children. If your child is particularly fussy, they now make DHA drops for infants, which can be particularly helpful.
DHA Foods for Infants, Toddlers and Young Children
If, rather than supplement fish oil, you've decided to add DHA foods for toddlers into your child's diet naturally, you'll want to make sure your family is eating the correct foods.
Essential fatty acids for infants are one of the most vital nutrients for growth and development, so make sure you include them in your meal plans once or twice per week.
Foods such as eggs, fish, and oily fish are the richest in DHA. Other foods such as nuts, seeds and green vegetables also contain it, albeit in smaller amounts.
Simply eating oily fish once to twice per week can actually have a marked effect on your child's mood and behavior.
For some parents, fish oil can be something of a godsend. Fish oil and DHA for infants has, on occasion, been known to change lives.
While it's certainly not a miracle cure, fish oil, at the very least, makes for exciting experimentation. You and your child have very little to lose by trying it, but a lot to potentially gain.
At the very least, fish oil is likely to improve your child's general health levels, even if nothing else. At best, your child may be able to overcome many of their behavioral symptoms that make life so difficult for them.
Whether you decide to add fish oil to your child's diet naturally or through supplements, that's up to you. Just remember the cardinal rule: quality over quantity.