A new UK study finds that daily supplements of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with improved reading and behavior of under-performing children.
University of Oxford researchers worked with children aged between seven and nine who had underperformed in standardized reading tests.
Scientists believe the supplement is a simple and effective way to improve reading and behavior in healthy but under-performing children.
Researchers used docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, as a supplement. DHA is found in fish and seafood, but in this study the source was algae, making it suitable for vegetarians. Researchers compared the daily supplements of omega-3 DHA with placebo.
Alex Richardson, Ph.D., a senior research fellow at Oxford University, said: “Our results showed that taking daily supplements of omega-3 DHA improved reading performance for the poorest readers (those in the lowest fifth of the normal range) and helped these children to catch up with their peer group.”
Paul Montgomery, Ph.D., professor of psychosocial intervention at the Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention at Oxford, said: “Previous studies have shown benefits from dietary supplementation with omega-3 in children with conditions such as ADHD, Dyslexia and Developmental Coordination Disorder, but this is the first study to show such positive results in children from the general school population.”
In the study, researchers worked with a local school district to identify 362 healthy children from mainstream state schools between seven and nine years old, who underperformed on a standardized reading test.
The treatment was a fixed dose of 600 mg/day of omega-3 DHA from algal oil. For 16 weeks, the school provided the capsules to the children on school days with the parents giving them to their children at all other times.
Although no significant treatment effect on reading was found in the overall study sample (children whose initial reading placed them in the lowest third of the normal range), supplementation with DHA did significantly improve the reading of children whose initial performance fell within the lowest fifth of the general population range.
In the 224 children initially reading at or below the 20th percentile, the improvement in reading over the trial period was 20 percent greater than would normally be expected. In the subgroup of 105 children whose initial reading was below the 10th percentile, the improvement in reading was nearly 50 percent greater than would be expected.
Experts say that children’s reading ages would normally be expected to increase by four months over the 16-week treatment period. The children whose initial reading was below the 20th percentile gained an additional 0.8 months in reading age if they received DHA rather than placebo.
Those below the 10th percentile gained an additional 1.9 months from the active treatment.
In addition to the improvements in reading seen in those children whose initial performance in this area was lowest, parents also reported an overall improvement in behavior.
Researchers found that among children who received the supplement, parents reported significantly less hyperactivity and defiant behavior than parents of children in the control group.
Source: University of Oxford
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