Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to our body. The 3 main types are ALA, DHA, and EPA. They help maintain heart health, brain health, and emotional health; they also help modulate our weight, fight inflammation, and keep our bones strong. Omega-3 fatty acids are not made by our body and we can only receive them through foods we eat or dietary supplements. They are one of the building blocks of our cells and approximately 8% of our brain is made up of the Omega-3 DHA. They are essential for brain development and are especially important in children and teens as brains continue to develop until the age of 25 years.
Omega-3’s are crucial in our diet and “the typical diet in most Western countries is woefully deficient in omega-3 intakes, particularly when compared to intakes of their competitive cousin, omega-6 long-chain fatty acids (omega-6s). Omega-6s are commonly found in seeds, nuts, and the oils extracted from them. A common source, soybean oil, is widely used in snack foods, cookies, crackers, sweets, and fast food consumed in the United States. The consumption of soybean oil has increased by 1200% since around 1970. It is so ubiquitous in processed foods and fast foods that an astounding 20% of the calories in the American diet is estimated to come from this single source.” Omega-3 fatty acids are found most in fish, fish oil, and flaxseed. Comparing these sources, it is easy to see how the typical American consumes much more Omega-6 than Omega-3 fatty acids. Our “omega-3 deficiency puts us at increased risk of a difficult recovery from a concussion.”
The omega-3 role in the brain is to protect brain cells, decrease inflammation, and help to improve communication between nerve cells. They can only fill these needs when the person is consuming the necessary quantity of omega-3. When a concussion occurs, if the brain is deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, it is much harder for the brain to heal itself. Additionally, research has shown that after concussion, there is a decreased amount of the omega-3 DHA in the brain tissue. Therefore, sufficient omega-3 intake is essential not only for normal brain function, but especially for the brain recovering from concussion.
Since we know that omega-3 fatty acids are essential for concussion recovery, and we know that it is hard to obtain enough through dietary sources, we recommend Omega-3 supplementation during concussion recovery. There are a few key factors to consider when looking for an Omega-3 supplement. First, as with all supplements or NHP’s (natural health products), it’s important to choose products that have undergone 3rd party testing (like that done by Consumer Lab), which verifies that the supplement correctly lists its ingredients and their quantities. Next, as with all NHP’s, we typically recommend products with the fewest added ingredients. Additionally, look for a product that is in the form of a “natural triglyceride,” and avoid those in the form of an “ethyl ester.” The “natural triglyceride” from means that the product is in the form that it naturally occurs and has not been modified. Lastly, look for an Omega-3 product that is “molecularly distilled”. This means that they have undergone a “process that removes any potential environmental toxins (such as heavy metals, dioxins, PCBs, etc.).”
Omega-3 supplements typically contain 1 to 3 types, including ALA, EPA, and DHA. Typically, we recommend supplements with DHA and EPA, and prefer those with a higher level of DHA; however, both are important. The dosage of Omega-3 supplementation varies per age. Talk with your pediatrician or concussion provider for your child’s specific recommendation. Also, be sure mention all other medications and supplements your child takes, to avoid medication interactions.
Barrett, E.C., McBurney, M.I., Ciappio, E.D. (2014). ω-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation as a Potential Therapeutic Aid for the Recovery from Mild Traumatic Brain Injury/Concussion. Adv. Nutr. 5: 268–277.
Lewis, M. (2014). Omega-3 long-chain fatty acids and their use in traumatic brain injury and concussions. Inform. Vol. 25 (1)