Omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids play a vital role in the development and functioning of the brain and central nervous system.
Research has identified that children with autism, PDD and ADHD have complicated issues with omega 3 & 6 fatty acids including decreased usage, absorption and transfer of active elements into the cell for use to support development. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) like fish oils, cod liver oil and borage oil are fats that children and adults cannot synthesize, and must be obtained through diet. Essential fatty acids are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids derived from linolenic, linoleic, and oleic acids. There are three families of essential fatty acids include:
Omega 3 fatty acids – most commonly known as “fish oil” or “cod liver oil”
- EPA – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is an omega 3 fatty acids that helps to manage inflammation. Requirement for EPA is high and becomes a priority after the age of 5 years old. EPA helps support childhood behaviour, academic performance, focus and attention. Adequate EPA is needed to support healthy brain, skin and digestive function.
- DHA – Docosahexaenoic acid(DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid that is a primary structural component of the human brain, cerebral cortex, skin, and retina. It can be synthesized from alpha-linolenic acid or obtained directly from breastmilk or diet.
Omega 6 fatty acids – most commonly known as evening primrose oil or GLA
Omega 3 fatty acids like fish oils and cod liver oil are derived from linolenic acid. Linolenic acid is converted into two important substances, DHA and EPA. DHA is essential for growth and EPA helps with regulation of inflammation. Children with autism, PDD and ADHD have been shown to have DHA deficiency. Supplementation results in improved cognitive, social, language and behavioural development.
Omega 6 fatty acids like evening primrose oil contain GLA and are from linoleic acid. Essential fatty acids like DHA and GLA support development of the digestive tract, brain, nerves, immune, respiratory and cardiovascular system. The human body needs omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids to manufacture and repair cell membranes, enabling the cells to obtain optimum nutrition and expel harmful waste products.
A primary function of essential fatty acids like DHA, GLA and EPA is to regulate inflammation and support immune function. Essential fatty acids are also needed optimal growth and brain development, including the sensory systems. Boys have higher requirement for EFAs than girls and it is very difficult for children, especially children with autism, PDD or ADHD, to convert essential fatty acids to their active form which is why supplementation, especially with EPA and DHA, is very important.
Essential fatty acid deficiency is common in North American children, particularly omega 3 deficiency. An ideal intake ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids is between 1:1 and 4:1, with most North American children obtaining a ratio between 10:1 and 25:1. Essential fatty acid deficiency and imbalance between omega 6 fatty acids and omega 3 fatty acids is linked with developmental disorders because they both create and perpetuate inflammation. We know that a causative factor in ASD and ADHD is inflammation. Studies have that the overwhelming majority of children with developmental disorders have DHA deficiency and inflammation from lack of EPA.
The best source of omega 3 and omega 6 essential fats in children with autism, PDD and ADHD is third party tested supplements that ensure there are no contaminants. Other sources are difficult for children with developmental disorders to convert properly and/or have contamination issues. Fish, like humans, accumulate toxins in the fat cells that surround organs. Essential fatty acids must be processed to remove these toxins when they are made into supplements. There are very few companies in the world that produce pharmaceutical grade fish oil free of heavy metals, pesticides, PCBs and other harmful toxins.