The role of DHA & EPA through the lifecycle: Children & Adolescents

22 November 2018


Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are types of omega-3 fatty acids, found in cold-water, fatty fish (like salmon, tuna, herring, shellfish, mackerel, and sardines), seaweed, and fish-oil supplements. Our bodies make small amounts of DHA on their own from ALA, however our bodies require additional intake from our diet and supplementation to reach it’s DHA needs to promote optimal health.

Both DHA and EPA play vital roles in establishing and maintaining our health. DHA is required in high levels in the brain and retina to provide healthy neuron function and visual acuity throughout all ages. Because of this vital role in brain and retina growth and function, DHA plays a more crucial role than EPA during the earlier stages of growth, such as infancy through childhood (3-11 years old)and continues to remain important into our adolescent years (12-19 years old).[1]


Children are still very much in the developmental phase of life, even if that rate of development has slowed slightly from the infancy and toddler stages. It is recommended by the FDA that children eat no more than 12 ounces of low-mercury, fatty-fish a week. They may be eating less however given food preferences and the picky-eater phase of life. DHA supplementation will likely be needed, and should be discussed with your pediatrician. According to the Institute of Medicine, children ages 4-8 should aim for 0.9g/day of omega 3 fatty acids, of which 10% should come from DHA, while kids 9-13 years old should aim for 1-1.2g/day of omega-3 fatty acids, of which 10% should be DHA.[2]


Our teen years are where we lay the groundwork for a healthful adulthood. Dietary or supplemental intakeof DHA as a teen is a helpful and necessary addition to promote heart health and prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. DHA continues to promote good mental cognition and eye health throughout our teenage years, and has also been linked to improving mental focus and attention. Teens ages 13-19 should aim for 1.1-1.6g/day of omega-3 fatty acids with 10% coming from DHA.

  1. [1] Age limits and adolescents. Paediatric Child Health. 2003. Accessed on 12/19/17.
  2. [2] National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Accessed on 12/20/17.
Tags: brain, child, DHA, kid, oily fish, omega-3, omega-3 fatty acids, recommendations, seafood, teen, teenager, toddler


Brigitte Zeitlin

Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian-nutritionist and owner of BZ Nutrition, a private nutrition counseling practice. She has been featured in Us Weekly, Women’s Health, SELF, and Well+Good. Become a client and work with Brigitte by visiting

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