Do I Need Fish Oil Supplements? A Guide to Omega-3s
Fish oil has claimed top-tier supplement status in recent years. The pharmacy aisle darling’s mainstream popularity (it was the most popular natural product used by adults in the United States in 2012) has been buoyed by claims it can nurture everything from your brain function to your heart health. While the product has become haloed in an aura of general well-being, there is still a fair amount of misinformation out there about what exactly fish oil supplements can do for you, so it’s important to dissect what’s real and what’s not.
Perhaps you’re one of the millions of Americans who stocks your medicine cabinet with bottles of fish oil supplements but you’re not quite sure what you’re taking and why, or maybe you’ve yet to hop on the fish oil bandwagon and you’d like to learn more. We spoke to a couple of dietitians about what fish oil supplements are, how they can benefit you, who should take them, and more.
What are fish oil supplements?
Okay, let’s get a little technical for a minute here. Simply put, fish oil supplements are a way to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Omega-3s are important components of the membranes that surround each cell in your body,” including cells in your eyes and brain, and play many roles in our health, such as supporting functions in the heart, lungs, blood vessels, immune system, and endocrine system. Basically, they’re incredibly important for a healthy human body.
The annoying thing is that our body doesn’t make omega-3s, meaning we have to get them from our diet, certified dietitian-nutritionist Gina Keatley tells Allure. “The issue is that there are only specific foods [like seafood and shellfish] that supply the two essential types of omega-3s," Keatley explains. These two omega-3s are EPA, which stands for eicosapentaenoic acid, and DHA, which stands for docosahexaenoic acid.
The third type of omega-3, ALA, alpha-linolenic acid, comes from plant sources, like flaxseed and canola oil. But the conversion rate of ALA into EPA and then DHA is pretty inefficient, according to the NIH. “Therefore, getting EPA and DHA directly from foods and/or dietary supplements is the only practical way to increase levels of these fatty acids in the body.” (Keatley notes there is also less research on ALA.)
Can a Daily Fish Oil Supplement Help Curb Symptoms of ADHD?
Can Omega-3 Fatty Acids Help with ADHD?
You know that fish contain nutrients that help prevent heart disease and other serious ailments. Now evidence is mounting that these same omega-3 fatty acids also optimize brain function. Among other things, omega-3s boost the body’s synthesis of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that ADHD medications act to increase.
So, could a daily fish oil capsule help curb the symptoms of ADHD?
Quite possibly, suggest several research studies on fish oil for ADHD — including a study published in Pediatrics. “A lack of certain polyunsaturated fatty acids may contribute to dyslexia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder,” reports one of the study’s authors, Paul Montgomery, D.Phil., a researcher in the psychiatry department at the University of Oxford in England.
For Montgomery’s study, schoolchildren were given fish oil supplements rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) for a period of three months. During this time, the children showed significant improvements in behavior, reading, and spelling.
[Get This Free Download: Fish Oil Supplements for Children with ADHD]
Is Fish Oil Safe for Kids and Adults with ADHD?
Fish oil is generally safe when taken properly, but you should always speak with your doctor before trying fish oil. Make sure the fish oil supplement you take is free of mercury and other contaminants. Children and adults with shellfish allergies should not take fish oil supplements; instead, they should look for vegetarian omega-3 supplements, usually made of algae or other plant-based materials. Side effects of fish oil supplements are generally mild, and may include nausea, heartburn, or “fish burps.”
What Are the Best Omega-3 Supplements for ADD?
Over-The-Counter Formulations for Children with ADHD
Fish burps are a real, dreaded thing. These, and the fishy taste of many omega 3 supplements, deter many children from trying this line of treatment. So ADDitude asked three kids with ADD — Natalie (age 10), Harry (10), and Katie (7) — to try several popular omega-3 products.
Although none of the products caused the deal-breaker fish burps, some of them did need to be hidden in other foods to get past our tasters’ picky palates. Here are the results, along with some frank comments from our panel.
Carlson for Kids (lemon flavor) (#CommissionsEarned)
Benefits: Made from cold-water fish caught in Norwegian waters; bottled in Norway to ensure maximum freshness
Serving: 800 mg of omega 3s per 1/2-teaspoon serving
Comments: Our testers preferred it mixed with a favorite food. Harry has his mixed in chocolate milk. Try it in a spoonful of lemon yogurt.
Coromega Kids Omega3 Squeeze (orange flavor) (#CommissionsEarned)
Benefits: Portable, single-dose packets; clinically proven to deliver 300 percent better absorption than softgels
Serving: 284 mg of omega 3s per 2.5-g packet
Comments: Our tasters weren’t thrilled with taking it straight. Mixing it in a smoothie or yogurt helped a lot.
Barlean’s Kid’s Omega Swirl (lemonade flavor) (#CommissionsEarned)
Benefits: Nine times more absorbable than regular fish oil; has the taste and texture of a smoothie
Serving: 720 mg of omega-3s per 2-teaspoon serving
Comments: All three kids liked it straight. Says Harry: “Double thumbs up.” Says Natalie: “Mmm, ahh, yummy. I could drink it all down.”
SaviSeed (cocoa-kissed flavor)
Benefits: Super-seeds from the rainforests of Peru; richest source of omega 3s, 13 times as much per serving as wild salmon
Serving: 7 g of omega 3s per 1-ounce serving
Comments: All three testers liked the taste at first, but were less pleased when the chocolate coating gave way to the earthy taste of the seed inside. Try having kids wash it down with chocolate milk.
Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Effervescent (creamy orange flavor) (#CommissionsEarned)
Benefits: Fun to drink as the powder creates fizzy bubbles when dissolved in water; convenient single-serving packets; added vitamin D3
Serving: 670 mg of omega 3s per 9.7-g packet
Comments: One of the three testers went for this one. Natalie: “Mmm. That’s good!” Instead of water, try mixing it in lemonade or orange juice.
[Read This Next: The ADHD Food Fix]
Research-Based Formulations Specifically for ADHD
Equazen Pro, a new Omega-3 supplement, manages omega-3 fatty acid deficiency to nutritionally support focus and attention in children with ADHD or ADHD-type symptoms. It was formulated to address a LC-PUFA deficiency caused by genetic abnormalities that is linked to ADD-type symptoms.
In addition, several vegetarian options do exist, including products like this: Purity Omega.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends treating ADHD in children and adolescents aged 6 to 18 with FDA-approved medications, plus parent training in behavior modification and behavioral classroom interventions. Research studies like this one conducted by scientists at McGill University have found that “stimulant medications are most effective, and combined medication and psychosocial treatment is the most beneficial treatment option for most adult patients with ADHD.” All ADHD treatment decisions should be made in consultation and coordination with a licensed medical provider.
Update 12/2020: An earlier version of this article misidentified DHA as an omega-6 fatty acid. DHA is an omega-3.
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What is fish oil? – Möller’s
Fish oil vs cod liver oil – what’s the difference?
Cod liver oil and fish oil are two different oils, although they have similar fatty acid profiles. The difference is that cod liver oil is extracted from the cod’s liver, while fish oil is extracted from the entire fish.
Fish oil consists of, among other things, omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty acids accumulate in fish from the micro-algae and other fish they eat. While all kinds of fish ingest fish oil from their food, the fat content they ingest varies depending on diet, season and habitat.
The content and benefits of fish oil
The omega-3 essential fatty acids in fish oil provide many important benefits for your circulation and brain, as well as contributing to normal bodily functions.
Omega-3 from fish oil or cod liver oil contains polyunsaturated fatty acids and essential fatty acids than contain DHA and EPA. Möller’s capsules contain fish oil from anchovies and sardines that have been extra concentrated and thus contain more omega-3 than occurs naturally. Luckily, it’s possible to concentrate a relatively large amount of omega-3 into small capsules.
Our body produces the majority of fatty acids it needs by itself, but essential fatty acids, such as those found in omega-3, can be ingested through food, cod liver oil or the fish oil in capsules such as Möller’s The Original. Foods containing omega-3 include mackerel, sardines, herring, lump fish roe, lumpfish, salmon, eel and rainbow trout.
Omega-3 from fish oil or cod liver oil contributes, among other things, to maintaining normal
concentration of triglycerides in the blood
Fish oil also contains both vitamins A and D. Vitamin D is fat soluble, which means it is stored in the body’s adipose tissue and liver over time. This way, the body can get vitamin D when it needs it. Vitamin D has several functions in the body, such as normal development of the skeletal system in children and maintaining a normal immune system and normal muscular function in the entire body throughout life.
Vitamin A is also a soluble fat that is stored in the body’s adipose tissue and liver when not in use and released when needed. This vitamin is also vital for the immune system and mucous membranes. Vitamin A is often referred to as the vitamin of the eye as it is vital to maintaining normal vision.