|Autism - Omega-3 Fatty Acid Diet - What is Omega-3 Fatty Acid Diet? Bright Tots - Information on child development - Autism information. www.brighttots.com
Omega-3 fatty acids appear to be important in normal brain development and capability. Omega-3 fatty acids are recognized as
essential fatty acids that are vital to our health but cannot be produced by the body. For this reason, omega-3 fatty acids must
be consumed from food. It is important to maintain an appropriate balance of omega-3 and omega-6 (another essential fatty
acid) in the diet, as these two substances work together to promote health. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, and
most omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation.
Extensive research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and help prevent risk factors associated with chronic
diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. These essential fatty acids are prominently fixed in the brain and appear to
be particularly important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioral function. In fact, infants who do not get
enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve problems.
Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include extreme tiredness (fatigue), poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood
swings and/or depression, and poor circulation.
Aggressive behaviors often associated with ASD, are theorized to have a relationship with aggression and omega-3 fatty acids.
Research indicates there are potential benefits that omega-3s may have in addressing behavioral concerns and injurious behavior
in people with ASD, PDD, etc. Studies have also found that children with autism have lower levels of omega 3 fatty acids than
do typical children. In other research studies it’s been establish that the use of essential fatty acids in children with autism
significantly increases language and learning skills.
Low levels of essential fatty acids are associated with a wide range of psychological disorders, including depression, post-
partum depression, bipolar (manic/depression) and Rett’s syndrome (similar to autism). Studies have found that 2 months
supplements of fish oil (rich in DHA) led to significant improvements in sociability and other areas, especially in children and
adults who consumed 1 serving of fish a month.
What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, other marine life such as algae and krill, certain
plants (including purslane), and nut oils. Also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial
role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. There are three major types of omega 3 fatty acids that are
ingested in foods and used by the body: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid
(DHA). Once eaten, the body converts ALA to EPA and DHA, the two types of omega-3 fatty acids more readily used by the
body. There have been recent scientific studies showing that humans need essential fatty acids, and that most people in the US
do not consume enough.
Fish (and fish oil supplements) may contain potentially harmful contaminants, such as heavy metals (including mercury),
dioxins, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). For sport-caught fish, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
recommends that intake be limited in pregnant or nursing women to a single 6-ounce meal per week, and in young children to
less than 2 ounces per week. For farm-raised, imported, or marine fish, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends
that pregnant or nursing women and young children avoid eating types with higher levels of mercury (such as mackerel, shark,
swordfish, or tilefish), and less than 12 ounces per week of other fish types. Unrefined fish oil preparations may contain
The Omega 3 Fatty Acid Treatment
One of the best sources of omega 3 fatty acids is found in fish, which get it from algae and plankton in the sea. Unfortunately,
many fish are high in mercury and other toxins, especially the large predators (shark, swordfish, and tuna). Small fish, such as
salmon and shrimp, tend to have lower levels of mercury, but it depends where they come from. So, it is generally safer for
children to obtain essential fatty acids from fish oil, since little mercury is stored in the oil. Because fish oil (and fish) spoils
quickly, it is important to obtain high-quality oil that do not smell or taste foul, and it should be refrigerated.
Two of the major omega 3 fatty acids are EPA and DHA. DHA is critical for early brain development, and EPA is useful for
later development. Recommended dosages: (based on the mass of omega 3’s, not the total amount of oil which will contain
other oils) are: Omega 3: 20-60 mg (600-1800 mg for or 60 lb, child). For younger children, use a supplement richer in DHA,
and for older children and adults, use a supplement richer in EPA.
Flax (a widely cultured plant), seed oil is also a source of omega 3 fatty acids, but the form it provides (alpha linolenic acid)
must be converted by the body to the active form (EPA and DHA). There have been some reports that children with autism
respond poorly to flax seed oil, so generally fish oil is recommended instead. Cod liver oil (or other fish liver oil) is a good
source of omega 3 fatty acids, and also provides good amounts of vitamin A and vitamin D. However, vitamin A intake from all
supplements should not greatly exceed the RDA intake for extended periods, since excess amounts will be stored in the liver
and could affect liver function.
Fish oil can cause flatulence, bloating, belching, and diarrhea.
Effects of Omega- 3 Fatty Diet on Behavior
Since aggressive behavior often accompanies autism, omega- 3 fatty acids may be helpful in treating such behavioral
difficulties. It has been suggested that imbalances in fatty acids may be linked to the development of pervasive developmental
disorders. There has been one study on the effects of omega-3 supplements in youth with autism. There is one study which
found a tendency toward reducing hyperactivity and stereotypy (repetitive thought, motion or speech), but the number of
subjects was small and the findings were not statistically significant.
Another study showed that the use of fish oil supplements in children with autism increased red blood cell levels of omega-3
fatty acids while reducing omega-6s. These changes were accompanied by improvements in general health, cognitive skills, and
sociability, as well as reductions in irritability, aggression, and hyperactivity, according to parental reports. Among children with
developmental coordination disorder, which is common among people with autism, omega-3 supplementation improved reading,
spelling and disruptive behaviors.
In conclusion, omega-3s may be an important dietary consideration in improving brain functioning and subsequently reducing
aggressive behaviors, though further research is needed to understand its influence. The overall benefits suggest that the
supplement can lead to the reduction of associated aggressive symptoms. Further, there is no apparent harm associated with
omega-3 supplementation. As with any form of supplementation, the decision to use omega-3s in children with autism should
be made in along with a primary care provider.
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