After having spent some time this evening attempting to convince a nervous father that his toddler’s typical falls are not going to result in brain injury or death, I decided that perhaps if I could offer a potential remedy that this might be more reassuring. I pointed out that there are reasons to believe that much of the damage from impact injuries to the body comes from the subsequent inflammatory reactions triggered by the injuries.
As such, I pointed out that typical nutrients such as vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids that dampen inflammatory responses may be helpful. Further, omega-3 fatty acids contain DHA and EPA which are major components of cell membranes throughout the body and are critical elements of brain tissue.
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It turns out that just a couple of months back, Dr. Barry Sears and Dr. Julian Bailes released the results of a study on the usage of fish oil supplements to help rats subjected to concussions recover from their injuries that concluded in part:
Based on that success as well as success with several other patients, Dr. Sears’ non-profit research foundation funded an animal study in which brain concussions were induced in rats followed by daily fish oil supplementation. Those animals receiving the daily OmegaRx supplement for 30 days post injury had a 90-percent reduction in brain damage. It is hypothesized that the omega-3 fatty acids in the fish oil reduced the neural inflammation induced by the concussion injury.
One implication of this study is that any similar concussions (such as those in football) may be best treated with immediate fish oil supplementation at the appropriate dose needed to reduce brain inflammation.
Sears was inspired to sponsor this study after seeing how fish oil supplements were very helpful in his own patients suffering from concussions. So far I’ve been unable to find the dosage used in this study, although as a rat study it may not translate well to humans in any event. But Sears and Bailes previously have used dosages up to around 15 to 30 grams per day of fish oil in mine disaster survivor Randal McCloy Jr. combined with frequent testing to ensure he did not suffer side effects from such massive dosages. McCloy was apparently helped in consuming such vast quantities of fish oil by supplying it via tube feeding.
Rather than massive post-injury fish oil supplementation, a much better approach for fall-prone toddlers (any toddler, really) is to ensure they get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, particular DHA and EPA, in their routine diet. There’s no strong consensus on appropriate dosages, but 600mg per day of combined EPA plus DHA is probably a reasonable level for young kids with their rapidly growing and maturing brains.
While health experts increasing proclaim the importance of omega-3 fats, there is little governmental guidance as to recommended consumption. My personal opinion is that almost everyone could benefit from taking at least 600mg of EPA plus DHA per day. Kids might seem to need less given their smaller size, but with their growing bodies the need for omega-3 fatty acids might be higher than their size would suggest. This is particularly true for infants and toddlers as their brains require large amounts of DHA for proper development. While mother’s milk can pass along DHA to a nursing infant, many mothers fail to consume enough EPA and DHA as their stores are depleted by the fetus during pregnancy and by the nursing infant.
For comparison, long-term fish oil supplements beyond 7 grams of EPA plus DHA per day have been used in studies of fish oil effects on depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions in adults. Dosages of 2400mg of EPA plus DHA per day for adults for lowering triglycerides and improving cardiovascular health are routine. A “value” fish oil softgel typically has about 300mg of EPA plus DHA in about 1 gram of fish oil.
Although ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) found in flax seed and other vegetable sources is touted as an omega-3 fatty acid, you’d need to take about 10 to 20 times as much of it as EPA plus DHA as the body’s conversions of ALA to DHA and EPA are not very efficient.
Vitamin D also helps fight inflammation and is widely deficient in most of the population of countries like the United States, Canada, and pretty much anywhere people don’t get a lot of sun on a daily basis. Vitamin D can be obtained in powder form and easily mixed into milk or other beverages and foods with some fat content. There is no effect on taste from what I’ve personally experienced with dosages of up to around 20,000 IU of vitamin D3 mixed into about a pint or half liter of milk. That’s probably more than 10 times the amount you’d want to be using on a daily basis with anybody younger than teenagers.
It’s best to take vitamin D along with vitamin K to help the body keep calcium in the bones rather than in the blood vessels. A mix of fish oil, vitamin D, vitamin K, calcium, and magnesium would be quite ideal for many health purposes. For adults, consuming these nutrient in softgels and tablets is easy enough. But getting this combination of nutrients into the diet of a toddler may be quite a challenge. I don’t have a good answer from personal experience how to do it just yet and suspect the fish oil piece may be the biggest challenge simply due to taste.
There are apparently some products out there which combine a few of these nutrients into a flavored syrup for kids. One of them is Nutrigen’s Fish Oil for Kids supplement which claims to be an “amazingly good” tasting orange flavor liquid supplement for kids that contains fish oil, vitamin D, and vitamin K along with L-arginine and zinc. Having no experience with the product, I can’t say if the taste claims are true or not.
Some question the ethics of Sears and Bailes selling fish oil supplements to their own patients. Part of the concern seems to be the high prices associated with the premium-label supplements they are pushing. However, there are several very good fish oil supplements out there which are inexpensive and high quality. We particularly like the Life Extension Mega EPA/DHA supplement when it is on sale for $6.98 per bottle as typically happens once or twice each year. It’s a great deal, neck-in-neck with value fish oil products like those sold by big-name vendors such as Costco but with some notable benefits such as higher concentration, less cholesterol, and less fat as I described in Selecting An Omega-3 Fat or Fish Oil Supplement.
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