Can Algae Omega 3s Treat Childhood Disorders?
by Dr. Mark Edwards
ew medical research shows significant positive effect for omega-3 fatty acids ingested with several servings of fish per week or with daily omega-3 supplements. Studies report that children with a broad array of cognitive disorders such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, and autism spectrum disorders are often associated with a relative lack of omega-3 fatty acids. Evidence suggests that polyunsaturated fatty acids, (PUFA) metabolism is impaired in individuals with ADHD. Lack or insufficient PUFAs are risk factors for a broad spectrum of neurodevelopmental disorders.
Empirical studies have shown omega-3 oil supplements benefit children with ADHD, dyslexia, developmental coordination disorder (DCD), and autism. EPA in particular may possess some beneficial potential in mental conditions, such as depression and schizophrenia. Numerous studies report EPA supplements improve scores on scales that assess the severity of symptoms for cognitive disorders. Given their relative safety and general health benefits, omega-3 fatty acids offer a promising complementary approach to standard treatments.
A series of studies show children benefit from PUFA supplements for a variety of mental conditions. Clinician ratings of mania and depression are significantly lower and global functioning significantly higher after supplementation. Parent ratings of internalizing and externalizing behaviors typically are significantly lower following PUFA supplementation.
Mood stabilizers and antipsychotic medications do exhibit efficacy in youth but their efficacy for the treatment of prodromal mood symptoms is largely unknown. Additionally, these medications are often associated with prohibitive treatment-emergent adverse effects.
In contrast, omega-3 fatty acids have neurotrophic and neuroprotective properties and have been found to be effective, safe, and well tolerated in the treatment for a broad set of mental symptoms in children and adolescents.
Evidence endorses a clinical staging model in which subjects at elevated risk for developing mental disorders are treated with safer interventions (i.e. omega-3 fatty acids or family-focused therapy) in the prodromal phase. If these natural processes do not achieve the desired outcomes, pharmacological agents may be employed, in spite of their potential adverse side effects.
The onset of allergies in children has tripled in one generation. Currently, over half of all children suffer from allergies. Allergic diseases such as eczema, asthma and allergic rhinitis in infancy and childhood involve immune dysfunction. These hypersensitivity disorders involve strong inflammatory responses and the production of antibodies called IgE.
Omega-3s have the ability to dampen inflammatory responses. Omega-3s do not cure the conditions but can bring substantial symptom relief. High proportions of DHA and EPA in maternal and infant plasma phospholipids are associated with less IgE-associated disease and a reduced severity of the allergic phenotype.
Studies show diet supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids, Zn and vitamin C significantly improves the asthma control test, pulmonary function test and pulmonary inflammatory markers in children with persistent bronchial asthma. Research results on EPA supplements alone have been mixed, possibly due to a high background intake of omega-6 fatty acids, the kind abundant in most vegetable oils. Medical research supports a diet with increased omega-3 fatty acids and reduced omega-6 fatty acids to protect children against symptoms of asthma and other autoimmune disorders.
Rheumatoid arthritis is one of many autoimmune diseases where PUFA supplements make a big difference. Three meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials in rheumatoid arthritis patients found that omega-3 supplementation significantly decreased the number of painful and/or tender joints on physical examination. Several studies show that omega-3 supplementation creates improvements in pain intensity and duration of morning stiffness.
Several studies have reported omega-3 supplementation improves children’s ability to go to sleep and stay asleep. One theoretical explanation is that the omega-3 improves normal brain function, enabling sleep.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been reported to decrease the risk of obesity, and used for treatment. The beneficial effect from PUFAs for obese, at-risk children may come from the omega-3 ability to alter the lipid composition of membranes. Obese children may also benefit from a feeling of satiety – diminished urge to eat.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been reported to decrease the risk for development of β-cell autoimmunity and clinical type I diabetes, an autoimmune disease where the beta cells in the pancreatic islets are destroyed. Both genetics and diet have been suspected. A study in Norway found that children with diabetes were less likely to have been given cod liver oil in infancy than children without diabetes. A follow-up study found that dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids is associated with a reduced risk of Type 1 diabetes in children with increased genetic risk.
Cardiovascular diseases are the leading causes of death in individuals with diabetes mellitus (DM). Hypertriglyceridemia (serum triglycerides > 200 mg/dl) is a common lipid abnormality in individuals with type 2 DM. Several randomized controlled trials have found that fish oil supplementation significantly lowers serum triglyceride levels in diabetics.
Another recent Type 2 diabetes review article shows that some types of fat in the blood are reduced through omega-3 supplementation. Clinical trials of sufficient duration will be required to establish conclusively the role of omega-3 in Type 2 diabetes. Current research has found no harmful PUFA effects on the balance of blood fats and confirm that it has no adverse affect on blood sugar control.
Additional research suggests omega-3s have a positive impact on over 100 autoimmune disorders. Medical research has shown PUFA supplementation enhances eye development and sight in infants, improvements in heart and pulmonary development and avoidance of cardiac risk factors. Supplements moderate the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis. PUFA supplements speed recovery from burns, bruises, and cuts, probably due to their important role in cellular membrane management.
More medical research needs to be conducted in PUFA in children. Many PUFA studies show promise, but neither association through correlation nor small trials make the solid case for supplements – yet. Probably the most exciting lines of research are investigating the mechanisms by which PUFAs work to enhance fetal life and early infancy. Similar research targets individualized DNA, which is like to identify markers for individuals who need more or less PUFA.
Another fascinating line of research examines the fatty acid source. Most fish oil today comes from fish, which may bring toxins and pollution contaminants concentrated by the fish. Most fish oil supplements do not show the ratio of EPA and DHA because some fish oil has only DHA. Fish oil constituents vary with the season, fish species, fish age, water depth, nutrients and temperature.
Algae sourced PUFA has no toxins or contaminants and can deliver any ratio of EPA and DHA. As additional research shows that a particular EPA/DHA ratio provides maximum benefit for human development, disease avoidance, or treatment, algae firms such as Algae Biosciences can blend precisely the desired ratio.
Here’s a thought for mothers: “Don’t let your children grow up without omega-3 in your diet — or theirs.”