DHA and EPA May Improve Learning and Reduce Learning Problems
When I was pregnant with both of my children, I took fish oil tablets and regularly ate salmon (which is rich in omega 3 fatty acids). I now give my children DHA/EPA supplements, as well as DHA enriched milk, orange juice, yogurt and eggs. DHA and EPA are considered to be important for the proper development and functioning of the brain. Due to a drop in the consumption of fish, DHA and EPA consumption have decreased significantly. Most children probably aren't getting enough DHA or EPA in their diets.
You can also buy bread, butter and other food items that have been enriched with omega 3. But many of these foods are high in ALA, rather than DHA and EPA. ALA does convert to DHA in the body, but it's an inefficient process. However, if you are buying bread and butter anyway, it doesn't hurt to get the omega 3 varieties. Smart Balance does have an Omega 3 butter spread with DHA. Here is a List of Foods With Natural or Added DHA.
What are DHA and EPA?
DHA stands for DocosaHexaenoic Acid. EPA stands for EicosaPentaenoic Acid. DHA and EPA are omega-3 fatty acids. They are important components in brain and eye tissue. Both are required nutrients for the optimal development of the brain and eyes.
DHA and EPA are found in oily fish, such as cod, herring, mackerel, salmon, and sardines. They're also in breast milk, which may be one reason breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ.
The Benefits of DHA and EPA
A lack of DHA and EPA may be contributing factors in many disorders, such as ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder), dyslexia and dyspraxia (a motor learning disorder that results from inaccurate transmission of brain messages to the body).
DHA and EPA may be especially important between birth and five years of age because so much brain growth and development occurs in these early years. More studies need to be done to determine whether DHA and EPA supplementation can improve brain related disorders. But early results are encouraging.
"All categories of the ADHD SC-4 significantly improved by week eight. Specifically, inattention, hyperactivity, oppositional/defiant behavior and conduct disorder all significantly improved over the course of the study" 1
Can DHA and EPA Increase Intelligence?
In a British study, 100 normal but underachieving children were assigned to two groups. One group was given omega 3 supplements. The other group was given a placebo. It was a double-blind study, so no one but the researchers would have known which children were given the placebo and which were given the supplements.
"Some 40% of the children given supplements made dramatic improvements in reading and spelling, averaging progress of more than nine months in just three months. The control group made just the normal progress of three months. Although none had been diagnosed as suffering from ADHD, a third were found to have sufficient problems to put them in this category. But when given fish oils, half of them made so much progress they no longer counted as having attention disorders." 2
Electrical signals in the brain move from one brain cell (neuron) to another. When signals leave one cell they must pass through a synapse to get to the next neuron. To enter a neuron, signals have to pass through surrounding walls called cell membranes. These cell membranes mostly consist of fats, including Omega 3s. Channels in the cell membranes must change their shape to allow electrical signals to pass through. It is thought that DHA makes the channels in the cell membrane more elastic, which makes it easier to change shape. If there is an insufficient amount of DHA available, the membrane uses DPA instead. Unfortunately DPA is a lot less flexible. This may significantly reduce electrical flow through the brain.
So, it is very possible that omega 3 can improve the intelligence of children and possibly reduce the symptoms of some disorders, such as ADHD and dyspraxia.