Could Omega-3s improve kids’ behaviour?

Omega-3 fatty acids are good for our hearts and brains – and they may help keep kids out of trouble, new research says.

It almost sounds too good to be true, but US researchers have found that a daily omega-3 supplement may help curb disruptive behaviour in children.

And not only did the daily dose of omega-3 help children, but their parents also benefited because their behaviour improvements reduced arguing between stressed-outs mums and dads.

“This is a promising line of research because omega-3 fatty acids are thought to improve brain health in children and adults,” says University of Massachusetts Lowell researcher Professor Jill Portnoy.

“There is more to be learned about the benefits, but if we can improve people’s brain health and behaviour in the process, that’s a really big plus.”

What are Omega-3s, and why do you need them?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a polyunsaturated fat – a healthy fat – but our body can’t produce them, so we must get them through diet.

So how can this healthy fat help improve disruptive behaviour?

Our brain is packed with omega-3s – about 20 per cent of our brain fat is made up omega-3s.

Most of this is a type of omega-3 called DHA.

DHA begins building in our brain before we are born, which is why it’s important for pregnant women to have a diet rich in omega-3s, says Professor Barbara Meyer, director of the University of Wollongong’s Lipid Research Centre.

“Low levels of omega-3 (DHA) in children have been associated with lower cognitive performances and behaviours, and studies in children supplemented with DHA have shown increased ability in reading and also significantly reduced symptoms of ADHD,” says Prof Meyer.

“Basically, omega-3s are needed for proper neurological development and that doesn’t stop when we stop growing.

“Benefits of omega-3 supplementation have been shown across the whole lifespan, including reduced cognitive decline in the elderly.”

omega 3s

How can omega-3s help behaviour?

Prof Meyer says a growing body of research shows that when children with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder take omega-3 supplements, their behaviour improves.

“Omega-3s are a cognitive enhancer and therefore they help to reduce impulsive behaviour,” she says.

“Essentially, omega-3s enable a person to think before they act.”

How to get more omega-3s in your diet:

  • Oily fish, including salmon, sardines, canned tuna, scallops, mussels
  • Plant oils, including canola, soybean and flaxseed oil
  • Nuts and seeds including flaxseeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds and walnuts
  • Dietary supplements

Give your omega-3s a boost with dishes like this Collagen and Chia Pudding or Tomato, Walnut and Chickpea Stew.

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