studies have demonstrated that children with lower levels of
omega-3 fatty acids in their bloodstream have significantly
more behavioral problems, temper tantrums, and learning,
health, and sleep problems than do those children with high
proportions of those fatty acids (Mitchell et al., 1987;
Stevens et al., 1996). In a similar study, fifty-three
children with ADHD had significantly lower proportions of
key fatty acids (AA, EPA, and DHA) in their blood than did
forty-three control subjects. Children with lower omega-3
levels had lower behavioral assessment scores (Conners’
Parent Rating Scale) and teacher scores of academic
abilities (Stevens et al., 1995). The researchers speculated
that an inefficient conversion of polyunsaturated fatty
acids to AA and DHA may have been a significant factor in
the lower levels of those fats in ADHD children.
study, researchers showed that children with ADHD were
breastfed less often as infants than were the control
children. They assume that the high levels of DHA in breast
milk could be responsible for better performance later in
life since infants are inefficient at converting
polyunsaturated fats from other sources into the valuable
omega-3 fat DHA that is essential for brain development.
Even the duration of breastfeeding has been associated with
higher intelligence and higher academic achievement in later
childhood, and with higher levels of high school attainment
(Horwood and Fergusson, 1998). A study published in 2002
also showed a significant association between intelligence
levels in adults and the duration of their breastfeeding as
infants (Mortensen et al., 2002).
The take-home message from
these reports is to breastfeed your children and maintain
adequate levels of DHA throughout childhood to encourage the
best potential for successful academic performance and to
reduce the possibility of learning and behavior problems.
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Horwood, L J, and Fergusson, D M. Breastfeeding and later cognitive and academic outcomes. Pediatrics 1998; 101:1–7.
Martin, R P, and Holbrook, J. Relationship of temperament characteristics to the academic achievement of first-grade children. Journal Psychoeducational Assessment 1985; 3:377–386.
Mitchell, E A, et al. Clinical characteristics and serum essential fatty acid levels in hyperactive children. Clinical Pediatrics 1987; 26:406–411.
Mortensen, E L, et al. The association between duration of breastfeeding and adult intelligence. Journal American Medical Association 2002; 287:2365–2371.
Stevens, L J, et al. Essential fatty acid metabolism in boys with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. American Journal Clinical Nutrition 1995;62:761–768.
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