Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FADA - Can Brain Supplements Help Your Child Do Better In School?
It’s back-to-school time again, and every parent wants their child to have the best academic advantage. Is there a pill or supplement than might be able to do that?
Parents, some supplement companies are way ahead of you and they’ve started marketing supplements containing DHA –one of the omega-3 fatty acids found chiefly in fish oil – directly to parents for their children. There’s some – I repeat some – preliminary research that suggests that DHA – short for docosahexanoic acid – might help your kids perform better academically.
What’s the deal?
DHA, and it’s fish cousin EPA (eicosapentanoic acid, also found in fish oil) are certainly heart healthy. They can lower triglycerides and the bad LDL-cholesterol. It’s so good at this that many doctors and cardiologists recommend fish oil supplements for their heart patients.
As for improving academic performance, the research is all over the map on this issue. Some studies find no benefit to cognitive development, others find some. Some studies find that DHA helps children who may have attention deficit problems, other studies report no such finding. It’s definitely not a slam dunk in either direction.
Many of the supplement companies say things like, DHA “supports” proper brain development. That’s true, it does that. DHA is even added to some infant formulas. Key word here is “support”. Lots of nutrients “support” the development of the brain, and every other organ as well. To put this into perspective, someone could market bottled water and say that it “supports” proper eye health. They’d be correct. Eyes cannot function without adequate hydration, but let’s not play with each other here either. This analogy is a bit extreme, enough that the feds might step in, but you get the idea.
Still, while DHA may help your child or not, is there any harm? Probably not, except maybe to your pocketbook. Some of these DHA supplements for kids don’t have all that much DHA in them. There’s no established daily value for now, but if a supplement has only 100 mg. of DHA, that may not be enough to make much difference, if any is to be had. Much of the research has utilized several times that amount.
Check with your child’s pediatrician before you give any DHA supplement. There are some children who should not take them. Supplements containing more substantial amounts of DHA may also come in larger capsules that may be hard for kids to swallow. Since DHA is derived from fish oil, some people complain that the supplements taste “fishy” and so don’t always go with the meal they are eating.
A better way to get DHA
The better way to get all the heart healthy benefits and possible other benefits of DHA is to just eat fish. After all, DHA, and its companion, EPA, are what make fish oil so nutritious. You might as well go to the source. No need to eat tons of it, just about two 3-ounce portions per week. No need to get expensive wild salmon either. Canned salmon is just fine, and much of it is wild. It’ll often say so on the label.
Here are some great sources of DHA and the amounts of DHA they have:
Source: DHA content:
· Salmon (farmed, raw, 3 ½ oz.) 1290 mg.
· Salmon (wild, raw, 3½ oz.) 1120 mg.
· Salmon, (canned, pink, 3½ oz.) 690 mg.
· Tuna (white, in water, 3 oz.) 535 mg.
· Tuna (light, in water, 3-oz.) 190 mg.
· Sardines (in oil, 3-oz. can) 433 mg.
· Fortified eggs (each egg) 50-150 mg.
Salmon is obviously one of the best sources, so to get more DHA into your family and kids, just try using canned salmon instead of tuna. It has more DHA and it can even be cheaper. More tips in an upcoming posting.
Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FADA
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