What is it?
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 essential fatty acid derived from fish oil. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is another omega-3 fatty acid and it is often found in products that contain DHA.
Why would I want to give it to my child?
DHA is required in high levels by the brain and retina as an essential nutrient to provide for optimal neuronal functioning (learning ability, mental development) and visual acuity.
Studies have been done on children with autism and with other developmental differences, and the results showed that after 3 months of taking DHA & EPA, there was a 6 month improvement in reading and spelling levels, as well as significant behavioral improvements.
When I asked our developmental pediatrician about omega-3 oil, he said that there is proof that it has positive impact on brain development in infants and children. I had already been using it for a while but this was reassuring to hear.
Where can I get it?
Moms can start introducing omega-3 during pregnancy by taking fish oil supplements. Then later your baby can continue to receive DHA & EPA through your breast milk. Some formulas are enhanced with DHA, (but as far as I know, only Baby’s Only by Nature’s One derives the DHA from eggs. More on this topic under side effects.) Omega-3s can also be found in enhanced milk as well as in enhanced eggs (I wonder what those chickies eat).
The easiest way to get it, and one of the safest, is through Nordic Naturals Children's DHA which has the highest omega-3 level of any cod liver oil. Nordic Naturals products have consistently high standards and test under the maximum allowances for toxins and heavy metals.
There is also a plant derived omega-3 fatty acid, a-linolenic acid (ALA), but the metabolic conversion of ALA to DHA/EPA (combined) by metabolism is very limited in humans and certain forms of ALA have risks associated with taking them.
What are the side effects and risks?
One of the positive side affects of taking omega-3 oil is that it helps to keep your baby from becoming constipated. Like some other oils, it helps to keep things moving along.
The Nordic Naturals website lists possible repeating (or spitting up) as a side effect. It says if this happens it could be because, “your body may not be manufacturing enough lipase, the digestive enzyme our bodies make to digest fats and oils. If you haven't ingested fish oils for a long time, it might take a week or so for your body to adjust and make more of this enzyme.”
Aside from that, I have found no other negative feedback associated with the Nordic Naturals omega-3 fatty acids, DHA & EPA.
Mercury and other toxins are a risk associated with some brands of omega-3 oils so do brand research before you purchase an omega-3 supplement.
Several sites mention dangers in the processing of ALA oils, Mortierella alpina oil and Crypthecodinium cohnii oil (sometimes listed as M. alpina oil and C. cohnii oil). These oils are extracted from fermented fungus and algae with a neurotoxic chemical solvent. The C. cohnii oil (algae) & M. alpina oil (fungus) used in many infant formulas are treated with hexane solvent, acid, and bleach. Some infants have experienced serious adverse reactions to these additives. Hmm, I wonder why.
Based on my research I did when choosing a formula and supplements, I found that Baby’s Only formula and Nordic Naturals omega-3 oil were the safest ways to get DHA & EPA into my babies. All of my children are still taking one or both of these products.
Is your child taking some form of DHA supplement? If so, what are you using and what results are you seeing if any?
DHA/EPA Omega-3 Institute
Omega-3 Fish Oil Blog
The Cornucopia Institute