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Is Your Child Deficient in Essential Fatty Acids?

Is Your Child Deficient in Essential Fatty Acids?

The health benefits of essential fatty acids have been widely studied and accepted by scientists around the world - but is your child getting enough of them to reap the rewards?

Lifestyle insight
Reading time: 4 minutes

What are essential fatty acids, and why are they important?

Simply put, essential fatty acids (EFA) are a special type of “good fat” that the body needs but cannot produce on its own. For this reason, EFA’s must continuously be obtained through food or supplements – as the body also can’t store them for long periods.    

These fatty acids are vital for good health because they play a central role in important biological processes - hence termed “essential” - and not just used or stored by the body for energy like many other fats. 

EFA’s contribute to the proper structure and function of every cell in the body and are therefore crucial for growth and development. Young kids, in particular, need enough of them in their diet to help the brain and nervous system develop normally.

The omega effect – an essential contribution to health

There are two main EFA families namely;

  • omega-3 fatty acids - plentiful in oily fish and flaxseed oil
  • omega-6 fatty acids - found in plant oils, nuts and seeds

These EFA’s form a necessary part of a nutritious diet and if you don’t get enough of them, deficiencies develop. It’s also important to get the right balance between them, with studies showing that today’s modern diet includes an excess of omega-6s and a lack of omega-3s. This is largely as a result of too much fast and processed foods containing refined vegetable oils, and too little fish.   

Common signs of an EFA deficiency or imbalance

  • excessive thirst
  • frequent urination
  • skin issues (rough, dry or scaly skin and/or raised bumps on the skin) 
  • poor wound healing
  • weakened immunity
  • allergic or ‘atopic’ tendencies (eczema, asthma, hayfever etc)
  • dry, dull or ‘lifeless’ hair and/or dandruff
  • soft or brittle nails
  • visual symptoms (poor night vision, sensitivity to bright light, visual disturbances when reading etc)
  • sleep disturbances like difficulty settling at night or waking in the morning
  • emotional sensitivity such as depression, excessive mood swings or undue anxiety
  • attentional problems (struggling to concentrate, poor working memory etc)

Studies also indicate that EFA deficiency is unusually common in people with ADHD, dyslexia and autistic spectrum disorders – as well as behavioural and learning disorders.

Reversing deficiencies and restoring the balance

While EFA deficiencies are enjoying increased limelight of late, symptoms can often mimic other health concerns such as low iron or calcium – meaning that omega shortages can often slide by under the radar.

If you suspect that your child’s omega intake is insufficient, or imbalanced, there are two key ways to address this; 

  1. Dietary changes that avoid vegetable oils high in omega-6 (and the processed foods that contain them) and include sufficient omega-3 rich foods like oily fish 
  2. Bridging any nutritional gaps with a reputable fish oil supplement containing a research-based formulation of EFAs
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