For vegetarians, or infants and children who are allergic to fish oils, a diet rich in flaxseeds and other plant sources of omega-3 supports long-term sufficient production of DHA and EPA. Numerous comparative studies comparing the efficacy of fish omega-3 (with a high DHA and EPA) with that of flax alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) have shown that there is a more therapeutic benefit from fish. However, positive results are still achieved through taking flax, the effects may just take longer to show. In short, evidence-based science indicates that DHA and EPA are preferable and ALA is beneficial.
THE POLLUTION PROBLEM
Heavy metal pollution in fish is a risk, which is why companies and manufacturers should source omega-3 ingredients that have undergone stringent safety tests. Products such as flaxseed, evening primrose and borage oils should also be tested for environmental toxins such as pesticides.
Even though more research is required to help us better understand the role of omega-3s in the development of the human brain, it is hard to ignore the potential benefits. Research clearly suggests that including omega-3-rich foods, infant formulas and supplements provides beneficial effects on cognitive development. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that infants who display superior performance in problem solving tasks tend to have superior cognitive skills later in childhood. It is therefore possible that the beneficial effects of a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may extend well beyond infancy.
Editor’s note: Plant sources of omega-3 such as hemp, flax and chia can be grown virtually anywhere. Wild, oily, cold water fish is not easily available everywhere. If you found this article interesting, read Benefits of Listening to Music in the Classroom or Back to School with No Stress.
- Innis SM. The role of dietary n-6 and n-3 fatty acids in the developing brain. Dev. Neurosci. 2000 Sep- Dec; 22(5-6):474-80.
- Connor S, et al. DHA supplementation enhances high-frequency, stimulation-induced synaptic transmission. Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism. 2012; 37(5): 880-87.
- Agostoni C, et al. Docosahexaenoic acid supplementation and time at achievement of gross motor milestones in healthy infants: a randomized, prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009; (89):64-70.
- Drover J, et al. Three Randomized Controlled Trials of Early Long-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Supplementation on Means-End Problem Solving in Nine-Month-Olds. Child Development. 2009.
- Kannass KN, et al. Maternal DHA levels and toddler free-play attention. Dev Neuropsychol. 2009; (34):159-74.
- Richardson J, et al. Docosahexaenoic acid for reading, cognition and behaviour in children aged 7-9 years: a randomised, controlled trial – The DOLAB Study. PLOS One. September 2012, (7), Issue 9, e43909.
- Gabbay V, et al. A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Tourette’s Disorder. Pediatrics. 2012 May 14.