Science Update

Research Study Explores the Effects of Supplementation with Omega-3 on Behavioral Health in Preschool-aged Children

The potential impact of omega-3 fatty acids on human health has been explored in research for decades. Omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 LCPUFAs), such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have been shown to support many aspects of human health, including a healthy response to inflammation, healthy skin, cardiovascular health, cognitive function, and brain health. EPA and DHA are also important molecules in childhood development that are critical to structural development in utero. 

Studies indicate that n-3 LCPUFAs play an important role in brain development and function in children. Their role in childhood behavioral health has also been explored in research. Low n-3 LCPUFA levels have been associated with certain aspects of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The potential effect of supplementation with n-3 LCPUFAs on school-aged children with ADHD have reported improvements in cognition, working memory, inattention, and other behavioral parameters. However, it is reported that are few clinical trials in existence that involve the potential effects of supplementation with n-3 LCPUFA on behavioral parameters in younger children

A recently published randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study by Roach and colleagues, named the Omega Kid Study, explored the potential role that supplementation with n-3 LCPUFAs may have on certain aspects of behavioral health in preschool-aged children. The study duration was 12 weeks and it involved 78 participants. The treatment arm received 1.6 grams of EPA and DHA daily. The HS-Omega-3 Index® was used to assess changes in EPA and DHA levels in the blood. The Child Self-Regulation and Social Behavior Questionnaire (CSBQ) was administered, along with other outcome measures, including electroencephalographic (EEG) recording. 

At the end of the study, some parents of children in the treatment arm reported observations of improvements in mood, attention, and concentration. After data analysis, the authors stated that no statistically significant changes could be observed. However, the study did observe an association between lower levels of omega-3s and poorer outcomes in certain behavioral measures. In addition, the authors noted that the small sample size and relatively short study duration may be contributors to the lack of statistically significant observations. Future studies are recommended to explore this research question further for a longer duration with a larger study group. 

Omega-3 fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA, support many aspects of human health. Childhood neural and brain development may be influenced by omega-3s. Although more research needs to be conducted, omega-3 fatty acids may support some aspects of cognitive function, brain health, and behavioral health in children. 

By Colleen Ambrose, ND, MAT