EFA's function as homeostatic constituents of cell membranes, helping to relay signal information from outside the cell to the cell interior and are precursors to eicosanoids that influence other cells, similar to hormones.
EFA's are critical nutrients for humans and are labeled "essential" because our bodies are not able to make them. They enter our body through the food we eat (i.e. our diet) or via supplementation.
Children with attention problems and autism have shown to be more deficient in EFA's as a group than neuro-typical children. Factors contributing to the increase in EFA depletion, which is now being seen in a majority of people (children and adults alike) include; excessive food processing (chemical processing and the refinement of foods), soil depletion and the ever increasing use of antibiotics (leading to the alteration of intestinal flora).
Roughly 20% of an infant's brain is composed of essential fatty acids and they occur in ample quantities in breast milk (around 4:1 - omega-6 to omega-3), which confirms the major role for essential fatty acids in post natal development.
Omega 3 fatty acids are vital for normal brain development and in the maintenance of neuromuscular, cellular and membrane integrity. Since neurotransmitters affect learning and behaviour, any deficiency (or blockage) in these would have a dramatic affect on a child's (or even an adult for that matter) ability to learn and function optimally. Omega 3 fatty acids also support immune function, promote positive mood and well-being, reduce inflammation and play a vital role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Low levels of essential fatty acids are associated with a wide range of psychological and neuro-developmental disorders, such as depression, post-partum depression, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, bipolar (manic/depression) and Rett's syndrome (similar to autism). Two published studies have found that children with autism have lower levels of essential fatty acids, particularly the omega-3 fatty acids than the general population (1).
EFA's (and their metabolites) have also been implicated in the pathogenesis of many other diseases, including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, genetic diseases (e.g. cystic fibrosis) and a range of autoimmune disorders (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis).
Many parents and practitioners have reported of the benefits seen in ASD patients from essential fatty acid supplementation (particularly omega 3). A 90-day open trial of essential fatty acids in 18 children with ASD also found significant increases in language and learning skills (2).
Some Dosage Recommendations:
Omega 3 Fatty Acids →
1.5 - 10grams daily (3-5 g/day is typical) in divided doses. The highest EPA concentration possible - working up to a dose of 200-500mg of EPA
Primrose Oil (gamma-linolenic acid) →
start at 50-100mg and work up to 600mg of GLA as tolerated (3 week to 3 month trial)
There are many products available out there offering essential fatty acids (i.e. omega 3 and omega 6) supplementation. Always make sure the product you choose has been independently tested for heavy metals and pesticides and other toxins.
Kingsway Compounding has its own brand of fish oil (salmon oil) supplements; which we have thoroughly researched and tested for any heavy metals and impurities. The antioxidant used in these capsules to prevent the oil going rancid is a non-soy derived vitamin E.