Essential Fish Oils for Teenagers

I am a naturopathic physician with nearly 20 years of experience developing breakthrough nutritional products.I also have extensive television and radio experience and have lectured widely to health professionals, the military and the public on all aspects of natural health.

Dr Myers, an expert who holds a doctorate in naturopathic medicine

Stephen Fry in my surgery during the making of the BBC TV program

Me with Lord Bragg, accepting my "Champion of the Year" award

After graduating, I was recognised as being the 'best young neurosurgeon in Britain'

The reality today is that most of us do not get enough Omega 3 fatty acids in our diets and teenagers are certainly no different. This lack of Omega 3 compounded by a diet too rich in Omega 6 can have a detrimental effect on our mental and physical health. Previous research has shown that supplementing with Omega 3 fish oil can offer significant health benefits for the heart, alleviate the symptoms of depression, and have a beneficial effect on arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. Fish oil also boosts the immune system and even offers some protection against certain types of cancer.

However, some of the most significant results involving children and teenagers have been the dramatic effect that fish oil appears to have on concentration, learning and behaviour in the classroom.

Better performance at school

The UK Durham trials in particular, led by Dr Madeleine Portwood continue to report on the beneficial effect that fish oil has on learning and behaviour. The results of several studies have indicated that a daily dose of fish oil high in the essential fatty acid Eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA increases attentiveness and reduces impulsiveness and has a positive effect on a youngster’s academic performance in general.

One study involved a group of 20 teenagers between 12 and 15 years of age most of who showed moderate to severe symptoms of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). ADHD is characterised by an inability to concentrate or remain focused on tasks for any length of time, along with symptoms of impulsive and hyperactive behaviour, all of which can have a negative effect on a child’s performance at school. Interestingly, children with ADHD have been found to have particularly low concentrations of Omega 3 fatty acids in their blood.

After just 12 weeks of giving the teenagers Omega 3 fish oil on a daily basis, their inattentiveness levels fell from 94% at the start of the trial to just 17% and impulsivity from 89% to 28%. Yet another study, this time in Adelaide, Australia, concluded that giving fish oil supplements to children with ADHD significantly improves their performance at school and the researches even reported that fish oil could be better than Ritalin for treating ADHD.

These results are exciting enough but are not the only benefits to be obtained by giving Omega 3 fish oil supplements to teenagers.

Fish oil helps to combat acne

Fish oil is a powerful anti-inflammatory and can have a positive effect on skin conditions such as acne. During adolescence, there are a number of hormonal changes taking place and the Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oil can help inhibit the production of androgens, a hormone which is particularly active during adolescence and which can trigger acne and perhaps this is why teenagers are more prone to acne than other age groups.

So what is so special about fish oil?

Oily fish contains essential fatty acids Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that are necessary for physical and mental health but the essential fatty acid EPA is considered to be particularly important for efficient functioning of the brain on a daily basis. EPA is thought to work by increasing blood flow throughout the body and to the brain and also has an impact on hormones and the immune system, together which can improve brain function and general health.

EPA can only be found in any significant quantities in oily fish but we are advised to limit our consumption of fish due to the amount of toxins they can contain. However, purified fish oil with a high EPA content is a perfectly safe and convenient way for teenagers to get enough of the essential EPA Omega 3 fatty acid in their diets to make a difference.

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