Choosing a Fish Oil for your child

If you are familiar with or immerged in the fitness industry, then you are aware of the hundreds of supplements that target pre, during, and post workout. With protein powders, creatine and branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) being the most popular amongst the sport supplements. You can find several different brands of BCAAs that are unflavoured, flavoured, and fermented, which can lead to difficulty choosing the right one. So, what are BCAAs and why are they popular?

It can be extremely confusing and stressful walking into your local Nature’s Source/ Nature’s Signature store and be bombarded with the 15 different types of Fish oils marketed to children. Which one do you choose? What fish oil will support optimal health for my child? Well, when it comes to products, not one product fits all. Everyone, including children, have different needs, and these needs are dictated by what that child is going through. Are they an infant? Are they going through a growth spurt? Are they hyperactive? Are they struggling with poor concentration? Some children will have a higher need for DHA, or a higher need for EPA. DHA? EPA? What the heck does that mean? Before going any further, allow me to simplify it. What are fish oils and why are they so important?

Fish oils are known as Omega 3’s which are called Essential Fatty Acids. These essential fats are necessary since many important functions and tissues in the body rely on them. The body is unable to produce them on its own, therefore supplementation is needed(1).However, before considering supplementation, increasing fresh water/ wild caught fish in the diet should be the first source of Fish oils. Fish oils are comprised of EPA, eicosapentaenoic acid, and DHA, docosahexaenoic acid.

Now we know why they are essential, let’s talk about how to choose the right one for your child.

SIGNS OF DEFICIENCIES:

  • Behavioural changes
  • Low immune function
  • Growth retardation
  • Decreased learning ability
  • Motor incoordination
  • Dry skin

BIRTH:

When it comes to pregnancy, fish oils are extremely important in the development of the fetus’s brain and nervous system. In the third trimester, the infant is in an important period of brain growth and development. However, if a baby is born premature, they unfortunately miss out on that brain development opportunity (2). Don’t fret because parents are still able help promote healthy brain development for their newborns.

PREMATURE/ BREASTFEEDING:

Mother’s who are breastfeeding can pass along these essential fats through the breastmilk. Mom’s intake of fish oils will need to increase to have the adequate amount for her new baby and for herself. Keep in mind, fish should be the first source of fish oils, however supplementation will still be necessary (3). Fresh water/ wild caught fish like sardines and anchovies are a great option since they are smaller fish. When choosing fish, parents must be mindful of the fish they are buying. Larger fish are more like to have mercury accumulation in their tissues. DHA is the most important form of Omega 3’s in this period of an infant’s life since it is used in the development of the retina in the eyes (4).

PREMATURE/ FORMULA FEEDING:

If a mother chooses to formula feed, she will need to give an oral supplement of only DHA to the baby. This can be administered by putting a few drops of DHA on the nipple of the bottle. Depending on the dosage, it may need to be given several times a day. EPA should not be given to an infant before 6 months because EPA will compete for absorption with another essential fat, Arachidonic acid, that infants need.(5)

INFANTS/TODDLERS:

We now know that fish oils are crucial for an infant’s brain development, but research shows that an infant’s brain continues to develop as they becomes more mobile and their mental acuity increases(6). During eighteen months to three years, a child’s spinal cord goes through a huge growth spurt therefore they will need a good amount of fish oils, mainly DHA to support this growth period.

SCHOOL-AGED CHILDREN:

In my practice, it can be more difficult to get children to eat fish, especially if it was not introduced to them as an infant and toddler. Supplementing fish oils are a great way to add some brain food and healthy fats into a child’s diet. There are fish oil supplements that are created in a way where there is no fish taste, or fishy burps, and actually taste good. I mean who really likes those gross fishy burps anyways. Once children begin school, they are exposed to a ton of bacteria, some friendly and some not so friendly. Supplementing with a fish oil that has a greater dosage of of EPA than DHA, promotes immune function and a decrease of allergic responses.

ADOLESCENCES:

Being an adult in a society where social media is dominating and success is based on how many likes you have on Instagram is overwhelming to keep up, can you imagine how a child or teenager feels? Mental health is very important and delicate, and it should never be ignored. Unfortunately, many people, including teens struggle with mental health issues. According to The National Centre for Complimentary and Integrative Health, people who struggle with depression can benefit from EPA supplementation.(7)However, taking a fish oil will not “cure” depression or any other neurological disorders, further counseling and emotional release work must be done. In some research, lower levels of Omega 3’s have been linking to other neurological health issues like ADHD, ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and schizophrenia.(8)However, further research needs to be done. I believe with any neurological disorders; a high potency fish oil should be apart of a daily regiment to support brain health.

WELL, WHAT ABOUT COD LIVER OIL?

There are many benefits to cod liver oil, it not only contains EPA and DHA, it is a source of Vitamin D and Vitamin A When it comes supplementing cod liver oil it is safe for mothers to consume it while breastfeeding. In a study, infants who were breastfed by mothers that supplemented cod liver oil proved to have better mental development later in life. (9) However, cod liver oil contains Vitamin A . which toxicity levels can be reached quickly. Please contact your natural healthcare practitioners before supplementing with anything!


1. Benardot, D. (2012). Advanced sports nutrition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

2. Phillipson-Webb, L. (2010). Sprout right: Nutrition from tummy to toddler. Toronto: Penguin Canada.

3. Phillipson-Webb, L. (2010). Sprout right: Nutrition from tummy to toddler. Toronto: Penguin Canada.

4. Erasmus, U. (2007). Fats that heal, fats that kill. Burnaby, B.C.: Alive.

5. Phillipson-Webb, L. (2010). Sprout right: Nutrition from tummy to toddler. Toronto: Penguin Canada.

6. Phillipson-Webb, L. (2010). Sprout right: Nutrition from tummy to toddler. Toronto: Penguin Canada.

7. Omega-3 Supplements: In Depth. (2018, May 08). Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/omega3/introduction.htm

8. Home - PMC - NCBI. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/

9. Helland, I. B., Smith, L., Saarem, K., Saugstad, O. D., & Drevon, C. A. (2003, January). Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children's IQ at 4 years of age. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12509593