Omega-3 Can Help with Demands of Back-to-School Season
September in Canada means back to school, and parents and kids alike can need a boost. A seal oil omega-3 supplement may give you just the edge you need to survive this challenging time.
Summer is over, shorter, gloomier days are back, and a hectic schedule begins of ordering school supplies, ironing clothes, haircuts, and shuttling the kids to and from school.
Or even if online schooling is the order of the day thanks to Covid-19, stress levels can still rise. Is the Internet working? Do we have all the right apps? Is your son’s computer really too slow for class, or just for that online game he wants to play? And why does your daughter laugh all the way through class? Is she even in class?
In short, going back to school can be stressful. It is also a time when we want our kids’ brains to be in perfect working order. So how can we help address both concerns in one go? The answer is by managing our diet, and that includes making sure we consume enough omega-3 fatty acids.
Vital to Physiological Development
Omega-3s are “essential” polyunsaturated fatty acids, meaning they are vital to human physiological development, but we don’t synthesise them ourselves so we must include them in our diets. The most important omega-3s for brain development are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which we derive mainly from marine foods. There is also growing evidence that these acids help moderate our moods, including the negative effects of stress.
In most parts of the world, the best dietary source of DHA and EPA is oily fish, or supplements if you don’t like fish. There are other sources, like chicken eggs and meat, and grass-fed beef, but it’s hard to beat a dinner of salmon, mackerel or sardines.
Unless, of course, you’re Canadian, in which case you have access to the best source of all: seal oil. Unlike fish oil, seal oil is also a great source of another omega-3 fatty acid, docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), which raises the body’s levels of DHA and EPA.
So how specifically can seal oil benefit parents and kids in back-to-school season? Let’s look at the two most important ways:
Boosts Brain Function
Above all, school is about giving our kids’ brains a workout, and how well those brains work has a lot to do with their diet.
The process begins inside the mother’s womb, since DHA and EPA are primary building blocks of the brain’s membranes. Most of the growing is done by early childhood, but there are a few areas of the brain where new neurons continue to be generated throughout life. These include the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, and evidence suggests that new neurons here play a role in storing new memories. So omega-3s are vital not only in the growth of your child’s brain, but also in keeping it fully functional thereafter. Indeed, in kids and adults alike, higher levels of DHA have been linked to improved brain function, memory, and concentration.
So what is the best way to ensure your kids are getting enough omega-3s? Feed them lots of “brain foods”! Yes, they’re a recognised thing, and the Internet is full of lists. But fear not, all the lists are pretty much the same, with salmon at the top.
Or if you want a list specifically tailored to your young ones, try WebMD’s Top 10 Brain Foods for Children to “help kids get the most from school.” (Spoiler alert: The list is no different from all the other lists, but presumably it stops anxious parents inquiring whether all brain foods are good for children.)
The brain is “a very hungry organ”, WebMD explains, and “the first of the body’s organs to absorb nutrients from the food we eat. … Fatty fish like salmon are an excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA – both essential for brain growth and function. In fact, recent research has also shown that people who get more of these fatty acids in their diet have sharper minds and do better at mental skills tests.”
There’s just one omission from all these lists, seal oil, and the reason is simple: it’s not readily available in most countries. In Canada, though, seal oil supplements are easier to buy than ever before thanks to online shopping.
Seal oil actually has some advantages over fish oil. Not only is seal oil a great source of DHA and EPA, it also contains a third omega-3, DPA. DPA optimizes the body’s ability to absorb, store, and use the other omega-3s. The only other source of DPA comparable to seal oil is breast milk.
Another advantage is that seal oil supplements are natural and pure, with minimal processing, while most fish oil supplements are made from a concentrate. Concentrating the oil alters it chemically, and while it increases the levels of EPA and DHA, it can change the triglyceride structure, making them harder for the body to absorb.
Reduces Mood Swings, Depression, Stress
Aside from putting our children’s brains to the test, returning to school can also raise stress levels in both children and parents. And this has never been truer than during this Covid-19 pandemic, with more stories about mental health making the news than ever before. Again, a seal oil supplement can help.
Our understanding of mental health issues is constantly evolving, and that includes the role played by omega-3s. Specifically, the body of evidence is growing that DHA and EPA can help regulate and stabilize moods, relieve depression, reduce effects of stress like anxiety, and perhaps reduce symptoms of one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
One of many scientists studying the roles of omega-3s in mental health is Dr. David Mischoulon, who teaches psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and is a director of the Depression Clinical and Research Program of Massachusetts General Hospital.
Writing in Harvard Health in 2020, Dr. Mischoulon suggests the anti-inflammatory abilities of DHA and EPA, as well as their ability to travel through brain cell membranes and interact with mood-related molecules, may help relieve depression and other mood disorders.
“Different mechanisms of action have been proposed,” he says. “For example, omega-3s can easily travel through the brain cell membrane and interact with mood-related molecules inside the brain. They also have anti-inflammatory actions that may help relieve depression.”
In view of these important benefits for students and parents alike, it might be worth adding one item to your back-to-school checklist. Haircut, pencil case, back pack, clean shoes, and a seal oil supplement. Good luck!