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Parenting Advice: Brain Food For Kids - An Old Wives Tale Is True

Jan 25, 2008
The old wives tale says that fish is good for your brain, and cod liver oil keeps you healthy. Once again it seems that those old wives were absolutely right!

Most of us are trying to cut down our fat intake in our diet. However, recent research shows that not all fats are harmful. In fact, a lot of us have deficiencies in some very important fats called the essential fatty acids. These oils are essential to the development of the immune system, and brain functions. A shortage of these oils can lead to problems with concentration, hyperactivity, dyslexia, and coordination problems. Dramatic improvements in performance can result merely by correcting this deficiency, particluarly in children.

EFA deficiencies, which are very common, can also cause problems such as eczema, dry skin, dandruff and excessive thirst.

There are two main types of EFA's : the Omega 6 series, which is found in evening primrose and starflower oils, and the Omega 3 series which is found mostly in oily fish (sardines, herring, trout), and also in some nuts. The omega 6 series is involved in the immune system. Many women have found that supplements of evening primrose oil can help with pre-menstrual symptoms.

Most modern diets are seriously lacking in the omega 3 series. Within this series are two oils that are especially important. DHA, the building block of the brain, makes up as much as 20% of the brain's dry weight. Clearly, unborn and young children should get enough of DHA - but it is rarely included in infant feeding formulas.

EPA is the other major oil in the Omega 3 series, and it too is crucial to brain function. To enhance it we also need enough vitamin B6, C and zinc. Once again our diets lack these essential nutrients. To make matters worse, some processed foods, such as margarine, actually counteract their benefits.

If your children are having learning problems or show other signs of EFA deficiency, then you should think about increasing the Omega 3 oils that they take in. The natural way would be to serve more fish. Unfortunately, our waters are becoming so polluted that fish isn't always the health food we once thought it to be. It might be a better idea to buy good quality supplements. They don't cost too much and are readily available at the better chemists and health food shops.

So what do you look for?

Aim for a daily intake of 1/2 to 1g of EPA . This will normally require a daily total of about 1 - 3g of fish oil. Avoid fish (cod) liver oils - they are too high in vitamin A

Also use a general vitamin and mineral supplement, or look for brands that include vitamins B6 (30 mg/day) and zinc (15mg a day) with the oil (e.g. Cardioace).

Buy capsules rather than bottles of oil as they stay fresh longer. Be sure to look for vitamin E as a preservative.

Use a well-known, quality brand, made from wild ocean fish, rather than those from fish farms.

Take them daily for 3 months. If after that there is no noticeable improvement, then you can stop the experiment. Very occasionally the oils might give some problems with loose bowels but otherwise are quite safe. Obviously if your child has any specific medical conditions, especially problems with metabolism, you would be wise to consult your doctor first.
About the Author
Dr. Noel Swanson specializes in helping parents with their children's behaviors. To read more of his expert parenting advice visit his website and check out his GOOD CHILD Guide manual, jammed full of practical parenting advice.
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