Autism Research Suggests Big Benefit from Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Autism research suggests essential omega 3s significantly improve autism symptoms. And getting your omega-3's easy with high quality fish oils!

A new school year is right around the corner. And as such, I wanted to discuss the potential benefits of omega-3 fatty acids on children — particularly the benefits it has on children with autism. Omega-3 fatty acids are labeled essential fatty acids. And they aren’t labeled as “essential” for just any reason — they’re some of the most important fatty acids for brain function and development.

Today, I’ll reveal why omega-3 fatty acids are so important and some of the benefits supplementing with them can have for kids on the spectrum. But first, let’s discuss what autism is and what current research suggests may be a cause it.

What is Autism?

Autism is a mental condition that starts in early childhood. Autism is characterized by difficulties in social interactions, communication, and by a restricted or repetitive pattern of thought and behavior. Children and adults with autism exhibit any combination of the behaviors in ranging degrees of severity.

Despite an ever-expanding scientific understanding of autism, researchers still don’t understand the underlying cause of autism or why it has experienced exponential growth since 1975. (Part of this growth can be attributed to improved diagnosis and awareness of autism, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.) In the U.S., about 1 in 54 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Signs of autism can appear as early as 12 to 18 months — and most cases become clear by 24 months. The first 1,000 days of a child’s life has always been considered important, which include the 9 months spent in the womb (1000 days is 2 years 9 months, roughly). This is when their brain begins to grow and develop and the foundations for their lifelong health are built. In other words, by the time a child turns two years old, their neural wiring is either established correctly or the child may have severe structural problems for the remainder of their life. 

Are there any potential causes of autism?

While researchers aren’t certain about the underlying cause of autism, recent research has suggested a potential link. Namely, a review published in 2016 makes a strong argument that some autism is caused by neuroinflammation in the child’s brain (which is inflammation of the nervous tissue in the child’s brain). 

Research states that this could be caused by a variety of reasons, lack of omega-3 fatty acids, gut-induced inflammation in the child during their first two years of life, or even maternal inflammation during fetal development. These dietary factors can lead to neuroinflammation in the child’s brain during the most important time in a child’s life. 

Today, I’m going to focus on how a lack of omega-3 fatty acids can contribute to an increased chance of autism and how certain omega-3 fatty acids can improve some of the symptoms in children with autism. 

The link between a lack of omega-3’s and autism 

Children diagnosed with autism have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood than their peers without autism. This likely starts when the fetus is in the womb — as a deficiency in omega-3’s during pregnancy can lead to a depletion of neurotransmitters (such as serotonin and dopamine), which are lower in the frontal cortex of autistic children.

Since omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects, supplementing with them may help minimize the chances of autism. 

Another potential cause of autism in children is an overproduction of inflammatory cytokines caused by either a maternal infection or in early infections in the infant. 

An adequate amount of EPA and DHA (two of the three omega-3 fatty acids) reduce the overproduction of inflammatory cytokines that are caused by infection. EPA and DHA are found in abundance in fish, seaweed, and other seafood. 

How much omega-3 fatty acids should you (or your child) take? 

The American Pregnancy Association recommends pregnant women to supplement with at least 300mg of DHA and EPA for proper fetal development. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) claim that supplementing with anywhere from 3,000mg to 5,000mg (respectively) is safe. So I’d recommend taking more than the 300mg recommendation from the American Pregnancy Association. Especially considering a 2017 study has indicated that American women of child-bearing age (whether you’re pregnant or not) seem to be highly deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. 

The Westin A Price Foundation recommends pregnant women take at least 2 tsp of a good quality, preferably raw, high omega fish liver oil daily, putting them squarely in the desired range for omega 3’s

Children are a little different on the other hand. The brain is the fastest growing organ in newborn children and their brain needs EPA and DHA for proper growth. In Norway, it’s actually mandated that newborn children should get 800mg of EPA and DHA for their first year after birth. I’d recommend beginning supplementation around 800-1000mg for their first year and slowly building up to 2500mg by their second birthday.

Rosita Real Foods recommends staring with drops of cod liver oil for newborn children and working up from there to the desired amount.

The Westin A. Price Foundation recommends at least 1/8 tsp from 3 months on, with older children at a minimum of ½ tsp daily. Babies in the first year will greatly benefit from nursing mom’s taking 2 tsp of high quality fish daily, as the Westin A. Price Foundation recommends. They also recommend adults and adult size children, around 12  and up, take at least 1 tsp daily – and a more therapeutic dose if you are fighting something or healing.

How omega-3 fatty acids combat autism (and other neurological disorders)

Proper dosage of omega-3 fatty acids (such as EPA and DHA) can benefit autistic children, autism spectrum disorders, and other neurological disorders such as ADHD and childhood depression. 

A 2007 study reported that EPA and DHA reduce hyperactivity in children with autism. In a similar study conducted in 2015 in Singapore, they found: 

“[P]arents reported significant improvements on core symptoms of ASD as assessed by the SRS-Parent: Social Awareness, Social Cognition, Social Communication, Social Motivation, Autistic Mannerisms, and Total SRS.” 

However, it’s important to have a therapeutic dose of these omega-3 fatty acids or else you’ll have similar results as a placebo. A therapeutic dose is usually quite high — often more than 1000-1500mg per day (10-15 gram). 

Since you need such a high dose, you should consider supplementing with fish oils. But you need to be careful — the fish oil needs to be extremely pure or you won’t get enough to make a considerable difference. 

Before I discuss the best fish oil supplements we have available at Nourishing World, let’s talk about how much omega-3 fatty acids you (and your child) should take. 

How much omega-3 fatty acids should you (or your child) take? 

The American Pregnancy Association recommends pregnant women to supplement with at least 300mg of DHA and EPA for proper fetal development. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) claim that supplementing with anywhere from 3,000mg to 5,000mg (respectively) is safe. So I’d recommend taking more than the 300mg recommendation from the American Pregnancy Association. Especially considering a 2017 study has indicated that American women of child-bearing age (whether you’re pregnant or not) seem to be highly deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. 

Children are a little different on the other hand. The brain is the fastest growing organ in newborn children and their brain needs EPA and DHA for proper growth. In Norway, it’s actually mandated that newborn children should get 800mg of EPA and DHA for their first year after birth. I’d recommend beginning supplementation around 800-1000mg for their first year and slowly building up to 2500mg by their second birthday.

Remember, the quality of the fish oil you choose is important. If it’s not extremely pure, you won’t get enough to make a considerable difference. 

We recommend these two kinds of fish liver oils from Rosita and Green Pastures for children under two because of their high Omega3 concentration:

  1. Raw Cod Fish Liver Oil 
  2. Raw Skate Liver Oil

While we love the Rosita Ratfish Liver Oil for many people, you just can’t get a therapeutic dose of Omega 3’s from such a small amount of oil.

We’ll explain each of the recommended fish oils in more detail and list different product recommendations for each kind.

1. Cod Fish Liver Oil 

Cod fish liver oil trumps other kinds of fish oil for many reasons. For starters, they’re an excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acids we’ve discussed throughout this post. In addition to that, they’re also a whole food source of Vitamin A and D and they’re loaded with antioxidants. 

If you’re planning on supplementing with Cod Fish Liver Oil, we’d recommend the cod liver oil made by Rosita or Green Pasture. 

Both companies use ancient extraction methods (from the Druid Vikings!) that preserve cod liver oil without the use of heat or chemical solvents — which deteriorates the integrity of natural vitamins and nutrients contained in Cod Liver Oil. Meaning, what we have is as pure as it can get. Both brands consistently test for between 30 and 40% Omega 3’s in every 5000mg teaspoon, making it easy to get to the therapeutic dose.Picture of Rosita Cod Liver Oil and Softgels.

Rosita offers Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil as both a softgel and as an oil.

You can learn more about the other benefits of Rosita Cod Liver Oil and purchase their softgels here or their liquid oil here.

(I personally prefer softgels, but an oil might be better for children who can’t swallow pills – and it costs way less per serving!) 

Green Pasture offers a few versions of a Fermented Cod Liver Oil

In addition to a capsule and oil version, they also have:

A gel (not capsule) blend that includes butter oil – which adds Westin A Price’s “X-Factor” or Vitamin K. And a capsule blend which includes butter oil. 

Picture of Green Pasture Fermented Cod Liver Oil products on a background of Blue Ice.

 

You can read more about the other benefits of Green Pasture Cod Liver Oil and purchase their capsules here, their liquid oil here, their gel blend with butter oil here, or their capsule blend with butter oil here

Picture of Green Pasture Skate Oil on a background of the fish.2. Skate Liver Oil 

Green Pastures offers another type of fish liver oil — Skate Liver Oil. 

Skate Liver Oil has many similar benefits as the cod fish oil. They have an EPA level about 12% and their DHA level is 15 – 16%. It also has many vitamins (A,D,E,K), alkoxglycerols (immune support), chondroitin (joint support), squalene (antioxidant support), and quinones — such as CoQ10.

Also, Skate Liver Oil has been shown to help decalcify the pineal gland.

You can read more about the other benefits of Skate Liver Oil and purchase a bottle of their capsules here or their liquid Skate Liver Oil here.

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