Is Fish Oil Good for Teens?

Grilled salmon and white wine on wooden table
Fish oil from salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids. (Image: karandaev/iStock/Getty Images)

Fish oil may be beneficial for teenagers, but you should use it with caution and only if recommended by a doctor. There are many beneficial effects of fish oil on blood pressure, heart disease and brain growth in adults. Preliminary research shows that fish oil has similar benefits for teenagers. More studies need to be conducted, however, before proper dosages can be implemented for people under 18.

Omega-3 Benefits

Fish oil is a type of omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3 fatty acids that are derived from fish are both docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, and eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA. Fish oils are known to help lower bad cholesterol, called low-density lipoprotein or LDL, and raise high-density lipoprotein or HDL, the good cholesterol. It decreases risks associated with heart disease, like heart attack and stroke. It helps lower blood triglycerides. Fish oil thins the blood, which helps symptoms of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, and lowers blood pressure.

Teenage Development

EPA and DHA are very important for brain growth and development. In fact, you will often see baby formula fortified with it. It maintains its importance through teenage years because the brain is still developing. Teenagers will reap similar benefits as adults when they supplement with fish oil. In a study published in the "Journal of Pediatrics," 78 overweight teenage boys ages 12 to 15 were split into a group that took a fish oil supplement that contained DHA and EPA, and a control group who took a placebo. The fish oil group had significantly lower blood pressure and higher HDL cholesterol levels at the end of the study.

Brain Effects

Dr. Madeleine Portwood conducted a study involving 20 teenagers, ages 12 to 15 with moderate to severe attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The study lasted three months and involved taking six capsules of EPA and DHA supplementation. Participants started with an inattentiveness rating of 94 percent at the start of the study, which dropped to 17 percent at the end, indicating that EPA and DHA can make teens with ADHD be more focused and attentive.

Dosage

There is not an established effective dose of fish oil for children and teens under the age of 18. Although there are very few harmful side effects noticed, teenagers should not supplement with fish oil capsules unless approved by their physician. The American Heart Association recommends that adults eat at least two servings of fish per week, but that should be limited to one or fewer servings in teenagers because of potential contaminants and mercury.

Caution

The Royal Children’s Hospital of Melbourne does not recommend that kids or teens take fish oil if they have a hypersensitivity to oils. Fish oil can cause blood to thin, so if teens are on an anti-coagulant like Coumadin or have a bleeding disorder, they should not take fish oil. If using any kind of ADHD medication, talk to a doctor before starting a teenager on fish oil.

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