Like all parents, you hope your children will reach their full potential. You can do more than hope, though, by nourishing them with healthy foods, supporting their scholastic development, and encouraging them to take one or two research-backed supplements.
Research proves that children and early adolescents, ages 5 to 12, develop rapidly and best when receiving a steady supply of high-quality nutrients. Simple as that sounds, in reality many kids are surrounded by nutrient-lacking junk foods. Nutritional imbalances or deficiencies often first appear in the form of poor cognition and behavior problems.
Omega-3s may be the most critical of several brain nutrients. “Studies have shown that children with poor cognitive performance and behavior benefit from omega-3s in terms of [attitude] and improved reading and memory,” says Samantha Brody, ND, of Evergreen Natural Health Center in Portland, Oregon. In addition to increasing kids’ fish intake, look for kid-friendly supplements in both liquid and chewable forms, says Brody. But don’t stop there: “I always counsel parents that consuming trans fats interferes with the conversion of essential fatty acids. So while it’s important to get omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, it’s also important to avoid giving kids foods that contain trans fats.”
Even well-meaning parents can turn food and supplements into a battleground with children. So implement changes incrementally and nonchalantly to avoid resistance, and prioritize top options for these specific needs.
For several years, study after study has stressed the importance of omega-3s for proper brain development, cognition, and mood. Early on, researchers in England found that children given eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplements achieved better reading and spelling scores, compared with those given placebos. In a study of malnourished children, EPA and DHA supplements led to improvements in mental processing speed, hand-eye coordination, and problem solving. You’ll find both EPA and DHA made from fish or plant sources. Two more crucial brain-development supplements: a multivitamin, which can make up for dietary shortcomings, and adequate vitamin D, which appears to support learning and memory.
Dose: Try 100–200 mg DHA and 50–100 mg EPA daily. Tailor the dose to your child’s weight.
Another reason to strongly encourage omega-3s: They are key mood enhancers—or normalizers, if you will; their benefits may be even greater when combined with gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a plant oil extract. Consider vitamin D, too. Numerous studies also indicate the herb St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) safely relieves symptoms of mild to severe depression in both adults and children (but don’t use it if your child is allergic to ragweed). Depression is a complex condition, however, especially in kids, so always consult a health professional before starting any supplement.
Dose: For omega-3s, aim for 100–200 mg DHA and 50–100 mg EPA daily. For vitamin D, 1,000 IU daily. For St. John’s wort, try 100–300 mg three times daily, with the higher dose reserved for older and bigger kids.
Combining omega-3s with GLA can reduce impulsive and hyperactive behavior characteristic of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). So can supplemental Pycnogenol, an antioxidant complex obtained from French maritime pine bark. Some research suggests low levels of iron and ferritin (an iron-containing protein in the blood) might also contribute to ADHD. If you suspect iron deficiency—chronic fatigue would be a clue—ask your doctor to measure your child’s iron and ferritin levels before supplementing.
Dose: Opt for a higher DHA-EPA ratio, such as 400 mg DHA to 200 mg EPA, along with 50–100 mg GLA. For Pycnogenol, try 50–150 mg daily.