Are you searching for a natural solution to get your kids to focus better at school or improve cooperation at home? Omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to be helpful. A new study from Barcelona has found that incorporating Omega-3 into children’s diet increases their attention span and reduces impulsivity.
Interestingly, their findings reveal that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – an omega-3 fatty acid contained in animal-based food – is closely linked to attentive performance in adolescents. On the other hand, Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) – an omega-3 fatty acid found in vegetables – is tied to impulsivity.
During adolescence, the brain goes through significant structural and functional changes. These changes mostly occur in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are concentrated in this area and help with overall brain development from an early age. A lack of these fatty acids could result in several cognitive disorders.
The most common example of polyunsaturated fatty acid is DHA and it mostly occurs in higher amounts in the brain. It tends to accumulate rapidly in the prefrontal cortex from the first 5 months to the first 18 years of life. The researchers suggest this is the most crucial period to accumulate enough DHA in the prefrontal cortex for a healthy brain.
Although it’s worth noting that our body can’t naturally synthesize DHA. Based on the study, fatty fish for one is an excellent way to introduce DHA into the body.
Importantly, this is the first study to investigate the link between ALA and attentiveness in healthy adolescents. Researchers also add that previous studies have examined the effects of Omega-3 on cognitive function. However, research on DHA and attention in healthy adolescents are lacking. Likewise, the role of ALA in attentiveness.
This, therefore, prompted the researchers to investigate whether an increase in DHA or ALA levels in a child’s diet would equate to better attentiveness in a child.
A total of over 332 Spanish children in various schools in Barcelona having an average age of 14 years were assessed by Barcelona-based researchers. The researchers gathered self-reported data from the parents and children as well as blood samples. The blood samples enabled the team to accurately measure the level of omega-3 in the red blood cells of the children, coupled with their long-term dietary intake of ALA and DHA in red blood cells.
To gauge the attention span of the children, the team made use of the ‘Attentive Network Test’. This special computerized test was used to measure attentiveness rather than rely on reports from school or teacher ratings. The software also took into account the children’s orientation, alertness, sustained attentiveness, impulsivity, and speed at which they react to stimuli.
For the result, they found that increased DHA levels were more tied to attentive performance in adolescents and produced more selective and sustained attention. On the other hand, ALA didn’t show indications of attentiveness. The team, however, did record signs of reduced impulsivity with ALA.
“The role of ALA in attention control is still unclear, but this finding may be clinically relevant, as impulsivity is a feature of several psychiatric conditions, such as ADHD,” says lead study author, Ariadna Pinar-Martí.
“Our study indicates that dietary DHA most likely plays a role in attention-requiring tasks, but further studies are needed to confirm a cause-effect, as well as to understand the role of ALA,” adds Júlvez.
Above all, incorporating Omega-3 fatty acids into your child’s diet or increasing their fish consumption is key to helping with healthy brain development and excellent performance in school.