Can Children Take Fish Oil Supplements?

In our latest question and answer, the pharmacist discusses whether or not it is OK to give children fish oil supplements.

Dec 23, 2017

Bhabie asked

Hi, I just want to ask if safe to take omega 3 for children while taking multivitamins? She's 15 years old.


Yes, fish oil supplements can be given to children. In fact, there is a large body of evidence that supplemental fish oil by assist in the treatment of:

  • ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
  • Developmental disorders
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Eczema

If the multivitamin you give you child doesn't contain fish oil, you can certainly supplement with a fish oil product in addition to it. There are also a variety of multi-vitamin products over the counter that contain fish oil. Decreasing the amount of pills or liquids that need to be taken typically assists children who have issues taking all of their medication/supplements.

Dietary Fish Vs. Supplemental Fish Oil

It is very important to pick out a well known and reputable brand of fish oil to eliminate, or at the very least, decrease the risk of toxicities and contaminants. Pregnant women and young children are particularly at risk for the environmental toxins that can be present in dietary fish. The main contaminant of concern is methylmercury. Methylmercury exposure has been associated with:

  • Heart disease
  • Cognitive decline (including cognitive development in young children)
  • Organ toxicity

Dietary fish can also contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a known carcinogen.

Most health organizations, including the FDA, recommend limiting the consumption of dietary fish in children and infants.  In addition, it is recommended to eat a variety of fish as opposed to sticking to one product. Among the safest choices are light tuna, salmon and pollock. Fish on the top of the food chain (e.g. Swordfish, shark, mackerel) should be eaten sparingly as they typically contain higher levels of methylmercury. These fish are recommended to be avoided all together in children and pregnant woman.

As dietary fish can be potentially unsafe, supplementation of fish oil is often a good alternative. Be sure to use a well known brand that uses appropriate purification processes and meets or exceeds purification standards.

Dosing Of Fish Oil In Children

There is no standardized dose recommendation for children. However, safe and effective dosages have ranged from 200 mg to 1.5 grams of fish oil daily. It is important to look for total EPA and DHA content, not just total 'fish oil'.

EPA and DHA are the two constituents in fish oil that have the most evidence of healthy benefit. Generally, high quality products will have the total EPA and DHA content close to the total fish oil content. Lower quality products will typically have high levels of 'fish oil' or 'fish oil concentrate' but lower levels of EPA and DHA.

Safety Of Fish Oil In Children

When quality products are used at appropriate doses, fish oil is considered to be safe to use in children. The side effects that can occur include:

  • Nausea
  • Fishy 'burp'
  • GI problems
  • Bad breath

Many of these side effects can be avoided by using solid dosage forms versus liquid dosage forms. In addition, consuming high quality products should reduce the incidence of nausea and eliminate the 'fishy burp' side effect that is commonly associated with fish oil products.

In addition, vitamin E is added to many products to prevent fish oil from going bad (i.e. spoiling), so be aware that it may be included in some products.

To reiterate, quality fish oil supplements are perfectly safe to take along with multivitamin products at appropriate doses. Just be sure the multivitamin doesn't already contain fish oil. In addition, look for additives in fish oil products (such as vitamin E) to avoid getting too much of one nutrient.

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