Vitamins for Child Brain Development

When babies are born, their eyes and brain are not yet fully developed. Their eyes and visual cortex continue to grow as the brain grows. Are there specially formulated vitamins for child brain development?

Yes! DHA and Omega-3s. Here’s the scoop on these essential nutrients.

Our body does not manufacture DHA, therefore, it is called “essential,” just like its companion, omega-3 EPA, another important essential fatty acid. They work hand in hand, although DHA is more relevant to the brain and is found in greatest concentration in the eye. The American Pregnancy Association recommends products that are non-GMO, sustainably sourced, allergen-free and third-party verified for freshness and purity.

Baby’s Brain is Growing Fast

In the first month, the visual cortex is rapidly developing. By the second month, they can distinguish many colors, and in month three they have even better control of their vision, along with recognition and memory. By six months of age, infants can focus on distances as well as adults, and can even distinguish a close object from one that’s far away.

These early months and years in a child’s life are vitally important not only for visual development but also for continued brain development. A fully developed brain weighs about three pounds. When a newborn arrives, its brain weighs less than one pound and isn’t full-size until about age six.

During brain development, billions of brain cells called neurons produce electrical signals and chemical reactions that allow cells to communicate with each other. About 50% of each neuron is made of the omega-3 essential fatty acid DHA, which is a critical building block of the brain.

Our body does not manufacture DHA, therefore, it is called “essential,” just like its companion, omega-3 EPA, another important essential fatty acid. They work hand in hand, although DHA is more relevant to the brain and is found in greatest concentration in the eye.

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Unique Connections Shape Their Future

Neurons like to connect to each other, and they make thousands of connections, which, in turn, make each child unique. Children all have their own individual sets of connections, based upon the ways their brains are built, as well as their life experiences. The brain controls the entire body, and every time a child has a new thought they create a new connection in the brain.
The early years are the most active period for establishing neuronal or brain connections, and this dynamic process never stops. The connections children form now provide a foundation for their future connections.

Healthy Fats = Healthy Eyes & Brain

Healthy brain connections and healthy vision start with healthy structures. The best way to build these structures is with fat, and the right kind of fat for brain and eye structures is the omega-3 DHA.

Neurons, or brain cells, are made of fat and are also surrounded by an additional two layers of fat that make up the cell membrane. The fatty acid composition of cell membranes has a large impact on how flexible and fluid they are, which determines how they function, and how a child’s brain makes connections throughout his or her life.

Different types of fat build brain cells, but the most predominant is DHA. It’s a building block for proper cell membrane structure and function. It’s also important for healthy development and maturation of the eyes and visual system.
Additionally, research has shown that DHA is associated with a reduction in allergies, and can positively influence the immune system. When a baby receives adequate DHA, positive associations with behavior, attention, and learning can occur.

Omega-3s: Food Sources & Supplements

Because our bodies do not make this essential fat, children need direct dietary sources of DHA. Excellent sources are cold-water oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, cod, or rainbow trout. Because of the challenges of feeding fish to infants and young children, a fish oil supplement is another option. It’s important to give them fresh, pure, high-quality fish oil in order to ensure that they have a positive experience with it.

Babies should be given DHA in supplement form based on weight, starting at about 100 mg of DHA for one who is five pounds, on up to about 500 mg when they are 35 pounds.

Once the child reaches age five or six, more emphasis on omega-3 EPA is needed, and as the child grows, their diet, activity levels, environment, and stressors should be considered in determining essential fatty acid dosages.

Be Mindful of the Following

  1. Processed foods with vegetable oils and animal products are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can upset the balance of omega-3s.
  2. The omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) derived from flax, chia, hemp, and leafy greens does not convert well to EPA and DHA, so your child needs direct sources of marine omega-3s, especially DHA, during the developmental and growth process of the brain.
  3. If your child is vegetarian, there are microalgae sources of DHA.

Babies also need vitamin D

We cannot overlook infants’ need for vitamin D, another key nutrient in establishing a healthy foundation for babies. During development, vitamin D influences many foundational processes. It has many roles in regulating and aiding the development of brain health, including the influence of neurotransmitters.

Vitamin D is made in the skin from the UVB rays of the sun, the best source, followed by supplementing. Today, most people avoid having their children spend too much time in the sun. They also use quite a bit of sunblock, which impairs the ability of the skin to synthesize vitamin D. Globally, vitamin D deficiency is common, while in the U.S. sixty-seven percent of children ages 1-11 do not have adequate levels of vitamin D, even when fortification and supplementation are considered. Serious deficiencies can cause rickets, weakening bones that could then easily break.

Vitamin D influences antioxidant levels and bone health, as well as the regulation of calcium absorption, which is critical for the proper function of the baby’s nervous and muscular systems. Vitamin D also regulates the production of serotonin and melatonin and has been shown to support normal sleep patterns, as well as a healthy mood.

Compiled using information from the following sources:

1. Kids & vitamin D deficiency; American Academy of Pediatrics,

2. Simopoulos, AP, Evolutionary aspects of diet, the omega-6/omega-3 ratio, and the brain; Mol Neurobiol, Jan 2011

3. Jiao J. et al., Benefits of DHA for cognitive development during infancy, AM J Clin Nutr; Dec 2014

4. Drover JR, et al., DHA in the first year of life enhanced cognitive development; Mar 2011

5. Brenna JT, Carlson SE, Docosahexaenoic acid and human brain development, evidence that a dietary supply is needed for optimal development; J Hum Evol.; Dec 2014

6. Calder PC, et al., EFAs in early life may decrease the risk of allergic disease; Proc Nutr Soc.; Aug 2010 Chesney RW, Rickets & TB reversed by improved vitamin D status, environmental factors in Tiny Tim’s near-fatal illness; Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med; Mar 2012

7. D’Vaz N, et al., Fish oil benefits developing infant immune responses; Clin Exp Allergy; Aug 2012

8. Melarum SJ, et al., Omega-3 LCPUFA to reduce allergic diseases in childhood; Contemp Clin Trials; June 2011

9. Judge MP, et al., EHD Maternal DHA benefits infant sleep patterning; Early Hum Dev; July 2012

10. Cranney A, et al., Effectiveness and safety of vitamin D in relation to bone health; Evid Re Technol Assess; Aug 2007

11. Swanson D, et al., EPA & DHA health benefits throughout life; Adv. Nutr; Jan 2012

12. Cantorna MT et al., Mounting evidence for vitamin D as an environmental factor affecting autoimmune disease prevalence; Exp. Biol Med (Maywood); Dec 2004

13. Michael F Holick & Tai C. Chen, Vitamin D deficiency a worldwide problem with health consequences; J Amer Clin Nutr/Amer Society for Clin Nutr; Apr 2008