For years we've been told that eating fatty fish or taking an Omega 3 fish oil supplement is good for us. It may help reduce cancer risk, heart disease, and memory loss. But how does this translate to kids? Here's little info/research on the use of Omega3 supplementation in kids.
Supports learning ability and behavior in kids.
May reduce ADHD behavior.
Reduces aggressive and antisocial behavior.
Fish oil or Omega 3 supplements come with 2 types of fat in them, EPA and DHA. Both have anti-inflammatory benefits; and this is why I recommend taking them together instead of just focusing on DHA for brain health. I've been giving Fredrik a supplement for several months now just to act as an "insurance policy." The recommended amount of DHA/day for kids 1-3 years old is 70mg. I take 1-2 of the Orthomolecular Springboard Omegas and pierce them with the tip of a knife and squeeze the oil into one of his bottles for an extra 90mg DHA and 50mg EPA. He hasn't been too keen on eating salmon, sardines, or oysters yet so I figure this, along with the DHA he gets from breast milk and formula, is hopefully setting his brain up for success. (Before he becomes a teen, has his own money, and rebels by eating fast food...)
I really like Orthomolecular products, but if you cannot find a medical professional near you who sells them, try Nordic Naturals instead. They are a well known brand sold in most health food stores, Whole Foods, and other retailers. Just like Orthomolecular their products supply fatty acids in the triglyceride form not the esther form which is much less absorbable. Ryan and I taste tested their kids chewable capsules compared to Orthomolecular and decided the Nordic Naturals was much tastier. Nordic Naturals also carries a gummy supplement that would work too. Good quality fish oil is more expensive; and it's worth it. Cheap fish oil, is often in the ester form and not well absorbed by the body. Also, that big-box store size container of fish oil is probably rancid leaving the fish oil more inflammatory than anti-inflammatory. Dr. Chris Kressor did a deep dive into fish consumption and fish oil (omega 3 supplementation). Since I try to keep my posts short, I'm defering to his page for more in depth information on these topics. Need even more research and digestible information? Head over to Gene Food's fish oil article.
Other food sources of pre-formed omega 3 fats include: egg yolks (1=50mg DHA), fatty fish like sardines, anchovies, trout, salmon, and herring, whole fat dairy, algae, and krill oil.
Sorry/not sorry....the ALA found in flax, chia, and walnuts is not readily converted into EPA/DHA in most people.
I recently gave a short presentation with two of my co-workers discussing how food affect focus, mood, and cognition. There were some technical difficulties so parts of it cut in and out, but I've left you with the main bullet points and links to research from my portion.
1. Artificial foods = lower IQ. More specifically artificial colorings and preservatives. Those toaster strudels and carnation instant breakfast drinks I loved as a teen; complete neurotoxins. Everything they served in the ala-cart line in my high school cafeteria, complete junk and brain poison. No wonder so many kids are being diagnosed with ADHD and other learning disabilities, our brains are fried from all the chemicals we feed them starting at breakfast.
2. You need adequate protein to make neurotransmitters for your brain. When we don’t eat enough protein, our DNA doesn’t have enough amino acids to sufficiently carry out this process. "If our cells are going to talk to one another, they need protein. If you don’t eat adequate protein at every meal, you can end up being anxious, depressed, hungry, and tired."
-Dr David Herber.
I would add irritable, irrational, unfocussed, and scatter to that list. The best, most absorbable, and bioavailable source of protein, and therefore amino acids is....meat, dairy, and eggs.
Sorry vegans, this is just how biology works.
"Meat is the single best source of protein. Fulfilling your protein requirements (60 – 90 grams or more for adults) with non-meat foods requires enormous planning and effort, more than most people can manage. You have to eat three cups of beans with 100 grams of carbs to equal the same amount of protein in 6 ounces of animal protein (that contain zero carbs).
Animal protein is our only source of vitamin B12, which is essential for life itself. It contains enzymes that we need to access nutrients, essential amino acids, and cancer-fighting antioxidants like vitamin A, which cannot be obtained directly from vegetables. Vegans often become deficient in B12, iron, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin D and more. Yes, plant foods contain many of these nutrients, but they are more bioavailable in meat."
-Dr. Mark Hyman, What the Heck Should I Eat
But you know who else also becomes deficient in these nutrients? Most kids. They start their day with bagels, toast, donuts, or nothing; and when they eat the school lunch most of what they get is CARBS! with very little protein. Dinner often doesn't look that great these days either. As families race from one activity to the next, I see a lot of fast food, pasta, and PB&J sandwiches on the menu.
3. Lack of Zinc, Iron, B12 can all lead to ADHD symptoms
B12 – Cobalamin, aka Vitamin B12 is a helper vitamin. It helps B9 produce red blood cells, and it helps iron produce hemoglobin for transporting oxygen in the blood.
If you are a Vegan, and even some vegetarians, and many picky kids who eat very little meat need to supplement. Typical doses are: 10 micrograms a day or 2000+ micrograms per week.
Zinc - Studies show it may help with hyperactivity and impulsiveness. But not as effective for inattentiveness. I recommend 20mg/Day for kids and up to 50+mg for adults as supplements.
Iron - Iron is also necessary for making dopamine. One small study1 showed ferritin levels (a measure of iron stores) to be low in 84 percent of children with ADHD compared to 18 percent of the control group. Low iron levels correlate with cognitive deficits and severe ADHD.
However, do not supplement unless you/your child has been diagnosed with a deficiency.
Want to get these nutrients from food? Then grab yourself some OYSTERS and LIVER! Or maybe just some beef and salmon. I love adding smoked oysters to a salad or eating them on a plantain chip/cracker. Braunschweiger is seriously one of my favorite foods. My grandma used to make us sandwiches on wonder bread with miracle whip and mustard. Not what I would recommend, but she didn't know what we know now. These days I simply slice and eat, top it with Hain Safflower Mayo, or even fry it in a little olive oil and eat for breakfast with eggs and greens.
4. Fish oil
Significant evidence across multiple studies show that...
How much to supplement with?
For younger kids up to about age 8, 1,000-1,500 milligrams of EPA and DHA.
(If a product has 750 mg. of EPA and 500 mg of DHA, the total would be 1,250 mg.)
For older children, 2,000-2,500 milligrams.
However, I'm in the camp that when it comes to fish oil, more is often better. You'll want to talk with your health care professional to help you decide on the right dose.
I hadn't had a charlie horse in the middle of the night for years; then I got pregnant. Starting in the middle of my second trimester I noticed that all of a sudden I was getting cramps in my calves around 4am. OUCH!!!
Muscle cramps/twitches are typically related a mineral deficiency (sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus) or dehydration. Whenever I work with clients struggling with night time muscle cramps, I almost always recommend they start taking a high quality magnesium supplement. Why start with magnesium? Studies have found that almost 1/2 of the population does not consume adequate levels of magnesium; and since it's used in over 300 metabolic reactions it's easy to become deficient. While some people find relief taking magnesium oxide which is easy to find at Walgreens and GNC, the oxide form just isn't as absorbable as the glycinate form. For this reason, many people will tell me, "I tried magnesium and it didn't help." First, if you cant absorb it, your body cant use it. Second, they may not have taken enough for their body. My favorite brands of magnesium glycinate are Metagenics tablets and Ortho Molecular Reacted Magnesium which you can purchase in capsules as well as a strawberry lemonade powder. The powder is great for kids (and adults) who cannot swallow capsules/tablets. It's also a nice way to get in some extra H20 before bed since muscle cramps can also be caused by dehydration; it's a two-for-one special.
Muscle cramps are just one symptom of a magnesium deficiency other symptoms include: anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, low bone density, high blood pressure including preeclampsia during pregnancy, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, headaches/migraines, insomnia, and chocolate cravings.
As much as I like to simply pop 2-4 tablets before bed, I have found that like many women, pregnancy has made me severely constipated. This is where taking a different form of magnesium, the citrate form, is very helpful. Not only does it address the muscle cramps, but it also draws water into the colon which keeps things moving along. As long as I'm consistent in taking 1-2 tsp of Natural Calm magnesium powder at bed time things are good. I pair it with 2-3 Ortho Molecular reacted magnesium capsules to prevent charlie horses. This adds up to about 400-525mg of total magnesium. This might sound like a lot when you consider the RDA for magnesium is 360mg/day for pregnant women. In practice though, I find that many people need much more. Think 600-800mg/day. Now you don't want to supplement with that amount long term, but supplementing with 400mg and also eating a diet high in magnesium is certainly a great way to prevent or correct a deficiency.
Now that I'm working with more families and pediatrics I'm finding that many kids are taking miralax for chronic constipation. This is no good, and many of these families have not been given any alternatives. Thankfully Natural Calm also comes in gummies, and several families have found them useful in weaning their child off the miralax as well as helping with sleep.
For a more in-depth dive into magnesium check out the Linus Pauling Institute. Now go out and get yourself some magnesium! Unless you have a chronic kidney condition in which case definitely talk with your nephrologist first.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Congratulations, you're pregnant! Now it's time to start taking a prenatal vitamin right? While it's better than nothing, it's not exactly optimal. If a woman is trying to get pregnant it's best if she takes a prenatal months...years, in advance. This helps build up her nutrient stores prior to pregnancy and may improve the quality of her eggs and fertility. Ever wonder what makes a pre-natal vitamin so special? Not much other than the fact that they must contain 400mcg of folic acid to help prevent neural tube defects such as spinabifida. Like all supplements, prenatal vitamins are not subject to FDA regulation, and the quality of many is what I consider sub-par. Depending on your financial status, taking a big box store brand prenatal along with some healthy diet choices will go a long way; and is better than nothing. However, if you can afford it go for the best.
I have been taking the Ortho Molecular Prenatal with DHA for about 2 years and love it. The blister packs are super convenient and even during my 1st trimester I was able to take the capsules throughout the afternoon without any ill effects. Now in my 3rd trimester I've found that if I miss taking my pre-natal for a couple days my brain simply doesn't work as well. Makes me wonder if prego-brain has more to do with a high need for nutrients and less to do with hormones. But that's a different discussion.
What nutrients are important to include in or with a Prenatal?
DHA or Fish oil (may have to buy separately): After testing clients for just 5 months using hair and saliva analysis I have had 1 client not be deficient in either DHA, EPA, or both. What does this mean? You are most likely deficient, and I'm sorry but eating salmon 1x week will not meet your omega 3 needs. Some studies are inconclusive, but many others show a benefit to children whose mother supplemented with either DHA or fish oil. Benefits include better neurodevelopment, reduced risk of asthma, and reduced risk of pre-term birth. Even-though the Orthomolecular Pre-natal contains DHA, as I enter my 3rd trimester I am making a more concerted effort to eat salmon and sardines, usually in the form of salmon salad made with the Wild Alaskan Canned salmon from Trader Joes.
Folate v Folic Acid: They might sound similar but there is a difference. Supplements using FOLATE may be a better option for many people since the tetrahydrofolate form is activated. Most people these days have a hard time activating certain nutrients like due to genetics and lifestyle and environmental toxins. Folate bypasses this issue. Folic Acid is the cheaper version and still needs to be activated making it less beneficial. This is especially true for people with autoimmune diseases (20% of population) or those who carry certain MTHFR mutations (10-40% of population).
Iodine: As a proud member of the midwest, I have known for quite some time that I live in the 'Goiter belt.' Our soil is low in iodine which means all of our produce and meat is too. Since our only source of fish is fresh water, that is not a viable option for iodine either. Through nutrient testing I'm finding that many children with ADHD and other behavioral/developmental challenges are deficient in iodine, and this is supported by research. We have long known that iodine is important for proper growth, brain development, and thyroid function. Despite people eating a high sodium diet from processed foods, the salt used in most of these foods is not fortified with iodine. Instead we need to look to foods like sea snacks, salt water fish, iodized salt, and well formulated supplements to help improve iodine status.
Iron: Not all pre-natals contain iron. However, about 30% of the worlds pregnant population is iron deficient, and a large proportion of women become deficient during pregnancy due to increased blood volume, building a placenta, and growing another human who also needs blood. Many women complain that iron supplements make them constipated or give them an upset stomach, so far I have not found this to be the case with the Ortho Molecular pre-natal. Why iron? babies born to women who were moderately iron deficient tend to be smaller, and babies born to women with severe deficiency are at risk for still birth and newborn death. Yes you can eat foods high in iron (beef, liver, tuna, shellfish, beans, dark greens), but sometimes this just isn't enough. Even if your pre-natal contains iron and you eat a diet high in iron, know that there is still a chance you may need extra supplementation. This would be especially true for women who were anemic going into pregnancy, as well as for vegan/vegetarian women. If this is the case I typically recommend women take the Ortho Molecular Reacted Iron, most women (myself included) do not experience digestive issues with it.
Vitamin D: Unlike most multi vitamin supplements, the Ortho Molecular Prenatal contains a decent amount of vitamin D. 2000 IU to be exact. Vitamin D is incredibly important for supporting the immune system, calcium absorption, and mood regulation. This goes for mom and baby. Unless you are getting a solid 15 minutes of direct sunlight on most of your body, most days of the week, there is a good chance you're low in vitamin D. Many doctors and OB/GYNs will say that a blood serum level of >30 is fine. But who wants to be fine? Lets be optimal, and try to keep your vitamin D level somewhere between 50-80. For some people this will mean taking an extra vitamin D supplement.
This is my short list of important nutrients, I easily could have added vitamin A (retinol not beta-carotene), choline, and calcium, but then this post would go on, and on...
If you have trouble swallowing capsules let me suggest the Smarty Pants Prenatal. You will want to supplement with extra fish oil, since the amount int the Smarty Pants is quite low. Need a liquid fish oil? Ortho Molecular has you covered, it's even mango flavored. If you need extra iron and cannot swallow capsules, try this chewable.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
I'm a dietitian with a passion for good nutrition, bold flavors, playing in the dirt, and being with my family.