Food and Behaviour Research

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Research-backed Nutrients for Kids?

Robby Gardner

When it comes to selecting health products for children, there are many to choose from. Some are based on the most familiar of ingredients, and others may seem quite foreign. All of these ingredients can benefit from scientific studies, though. For added assurance for manufacturers and their customers, here’s a handful of nutrients backed by brand-new research.


For details of the trial of omega-3 DHA for sleep problems in children discussed here, see this news article, based on the press release from the Oxford University research team who carried out the study:

And the associated research article:

DHA for Sleepy Ones

Forget, for a moment, all of the botanicals that find their way into sleepy teas, because omega-3 fatty acids are essential for developing brains, and one of them may actually help regulate sleep cycles.

For years, researchers have wondered about the importance of omega-3 DHA in the human brain. It is here that this fatty acid is most abundant, so logic says that DHA must have some sort of cognitive importance.

Studies already tie higher omega-3 consumption to better learning, and DHA deficiencies have been linked to a potential for learning disorders. The DHA-and-learning connection, though, might all be rooted in sleep.

Previous research suggests that DHA has a critical role in regulating the brain’s production of melatonin. Published studies since the theory first surfaced add that DHA may be needed for specialty enzymes to transform serotonin into melatonin. As researchers try to understand how DHA works on a biochemical level in the brain, human clinical trials are connecting higher omega-3 levels in the blood with fewer sleep problems in infants, children, and even adults. The latest attempt to tie DHA to sleep involves a newly published randomised controlled clinical trial (the strongest design for showing cause and effect). 

Researchers from the University of Oxford gathered data on 395 kids from UK schools, focusing on a subset that was underperforming in reading. With the help of finger prick tests, parent questionnaires, and actigraphy sleep tests, the Oxford team examined whether 600 mg of algal DHA supplementation, daily for 16 weeks, might somehow improve sleep conditions.

Low blood DHA, and low ratios of DHA to arachidonic acid, were associated with poor sleep. The most interesting finding, though, was that DHA supplementation improved sleep by a calculated average of 58 extra minutes each night.

For those convinced by the sleep science so far, the DHA used in this trial can be sold as softgels and capsules. It is also available for making functional foods.

Vitamin D for Everyone

Even though humans can absorb vitamin D from the sun, a significant amount of the U.S. population is still believed to be deficient or insufficient in vitamin D. New calibrations, though, suggest that the amount of people at risk is lower than previously assumed.

Back in 2010, the Institute of Medicine changed its reference values for vitamin D. Instead of defining vitamin D sufficiency as at or above 30 µg/ml of vitamin D in the bloodstream, the agency changed this threshold value to 20 µg/ml.

Using vitamin D measurements from the historic National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), researchers at Loyola University in Chicago pulled a nationally representative sample of 2877 U.S. children, ages 6 to 18. With the Institute of Medicine’s updated reference value in mind, the researchers determined that 4.6% of children are at risk of vitamin D deficiency and 10.3% are at risk of insufficiency. The researchers claim that a 2009 study published in Pediatrics, based on the old reference value, found 70% of people ages 1 to 21 to be at risk for vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency.