“Omega-3 status linked to sleep quality in school children: Consumption of omega-3 from food or supplements could help to improve sleep quality in children, according to new data presented yesterday.” Thus ran the Nutraingredients headline reporting on the preliminary data from the Oxford University DOLAB study. Their report (link below) continues:
“Professor Paul Montgomery from the University of Oxford revealed new preliminary data from the study that links omega-3 status to sleep quality and disorders in children. The DOLAB research project involved both wider population data to look for associations in addition to RCT (randomized controlled trials) data on supplementation outcomes. Findings from both arms of the study have shown that omega-3 – and particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – is associated with sleep quality in children, said the expert.”
University of Oxford DOLAB Omega 3 Research
The study appears to reveal that poor sleep quality and an increased risk of sleep disorders was related to blood levels of the essential fatty acid omega-3; specifically the DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) content. Nutraingredients reports in detail on the research and the comments of Professor Montgomery who comments:
“It was ‘striking’ just how many children in the study had been found to have clinical signs of sleep disorders, and that blood levels of DHA were significantly correlated with sleep scores. Further findings from the smaller-scale RCT data found that supplementation with the DHA increased measures of sleep quality from baseline significantly.”
The methodology deployed to carry out the trial and the subsequent results make for fascinating reading. Not unexpectedly “As sleep problems increased, so did behavioural problems” revealed Professor Montgomery. All of us suffer if our sleep is disrupted and of course for children ongoing poor sleep patterns can become a serious concern affecting both child and parents.
The preliminary results of this research offer further evidence to bolster the findings from many other research projects that indicate how important good Omega 3 levels may be for us all and particularly children and a child’s development. The researchers do concede that the findings are still preliminary however it bodes well for future research on the same topic.
Omega 3 Foods and Supplements
The current proven health claims for Omega 3 EPA/ DHA are listed below; subject to a minimum ingestion of ‘250 mg EPA and DHA per day’:
- Maintenance of normal brain function;
- Maintenance of normal vision;
- Maintenance of normal cardiac function;
- Maintenance of normal blood pressure;
- Maintenance of normal (fasting) blood concentrations of triglycerides
The primary food source of Omega 3 is fish and especially oily fish such as mackerel and sardines. Fears of pollution in fish, scares over farmed fish and the high cost of fish and shellfish have meant that their consumption has decreased dramatically in the UK over recent decades.
The health benefits of oily fish can be mainly attributed to its fatty acid content. Fish contains the fatty acid Omega 3 which when ingested our body breaks down to 2 other fatty acids – Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are the components our body uses for many essential activities such as the maintenance of eye health, cell membrane integrity, skin health, joint mobility, and normal liver function.
Omega 3, Pregnancy and Children
For Omega 3 the predominant health benefits, as outlined above, are cardiovascular health, joint health, support for eye health (vision) and cognitive functions i.e. the ‘health’ of the brain. Children from birth (and in a fetal stage) have huge nutritional demands, especially for certain vitamins, minerals and natural nutrients. Hence the importance for good levels of Omega 3 for children and why it is included in baby formulas and why the UK Government currently recommends eating two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish.
There has been considerable research into whether omega 3 deficiencies play a role in the ailments of ADHD and Dyslexia in children; and additionally whether boosting Omega 3 levels in such instances help to minimise symptoms. In the elderly similar research has been carried out in relation to poor Omega 3 levels and cognitive ailments such as dementia.
We provide a link below to the science section of the BBC website which has an excellent article titled ‘The Omega wave: Fish oils are supposed to boost our brainpower. But do the facts really stack up? We went in search of the evidence.’ It details a trial of Omega 3 on school children in Durham and makes for interesting reading.
The UK Government in the face of mounting research into the benefits of Omega 3 and declining fish consumption have worked hard at promoting its importance for children and mothers (and mothers to be). Hence the greater prominence from food manufacturers for food items to be labelled such as ‘Omega 3 Fish Fingers’.
Omega 3 and Pregnancy
It is considered that good levels of omega 3 are very important for pregnant women too, not only for their health but that of the unborn baby. The UK government currently recommends eating two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish. However the NHS advise “But pregnant women should avoid some types of fish and limit the amount they eat” (this advice normally applies to fish at a greater risk of mercury pollution such as tuna and swordfish).
Omega 3 Supplements
There has been a commensurate growth in Omega 3 supplements as a result of the awareness of the importance of this essential fatty acid and for those who would rather take supplements than eat fish. The most popular supplements are typically fish oil capsules or liquid but also Krill oil supplements too.
Fish oil supplements are either made from fish livers, body fish, or a combination of both. Fish liver oils are high in vitamins A and D as these are stored in the livers of oily fish. Whole body fish oils only contain a small part of the livers in total and hence a much lower level of vitamins A and D. Cod liver oil for example is high in vitamins A and D. This is an important point for certain groups of people, primarily pregnant women and also older men. Pregnant women are advised by the NHS not to have too much vitamin A (Retinol) in either food or supplement forms.
When it comes to fish or krill oil supplements you should look for a product that provides high levels of Omega 3 EPA/DHA, and that is pure, and pollution free. The fish liver oils are much richer in vitamin A (and vitamin D) however pollution in fish is concentrated in the liver so you need to ensure the product is pollutant free.
Omega 3 for Vegetarians and Vegans
It should be noted that for vegetarians and vegans who obviously do not eat fish a good supplement option for rich Omega 3 is flaxseed oil (extracted from the flax seed). For flaxseed oil supplements you will again look for a pure oil rich in ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), organic so it is free from herbicides, and cold-pressed, which means that it is unprocessed and that the fatty acid content will remain unharmed in the extraction.
If you have any questions regarding this article, any of the health topics raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time.