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Omega 3/6 fatty acids for reading in children: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in 9-year-old mainstream schoolchildren in Sweden

Johnson M, Fransson G, Ostlund S, Areskoug B, Gillberg C (2016)  J Child Psychol Psychiatry.  58(1):83-93.  doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12614. Epub 2016 Aug 22. 

Web URL: Read this and related abstracts on PubMed here



Previous research has shown positive effects of Omega 3/6 fatty acids in children with inattention and reading difficulties. We aimed to investigate if Omega 3/6 improved reading ability in mainstream schoolchildren.

We performed a 3-month parallel, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial followed by 3-month active treatment for all subjects. Mainstream schoolchildren aged 9-10 years were randomized 1:1 to receive three Omega 3/6 capsules twice daily or identical placebo. Assessments were made at baseline, 3 months, and 6 months. The primary outcome measure was the Logos test battery for evaluating reading abilities. The trial is registered with, number NCT02557477.

The study enrolled 154 children (active n = 78; placebo n = 76), of whom 122 completed the first 3 months (active n = 64; placebo n = 58) and 105 completed the whole study (active/active n = 55; placebo/active n = 50).

Outcomes were assessed by per protocol (PP) and intention-to-treat (ITT) analyses.

Active treatment was superior to placebo at 3 months for improvement in phonologic decoding time (PP active/placebo difference -0.16; 95% CI -0.03, -0.29; effect size (ES) .44; p = .005; and ITT ES .37; p = .036), in visual analysis time (PP active/placebo difference -0.19; 95% CI -0.05, -0.33; ES .49; p = .013; and ITT ES .40; p = .01), and for boys in phonologic decoding time (PP -0.22; 95% CI -0.03, -0.41; ES .62; p = .004).

Children with ADHD-RS scores above the median showed treatment benefits in visual analysis time (PP ES .8, p = .009), reading speed per word (PP ES .61, p = .008), and phonologic decoding time per word (PP ES .85, p = .006).

Adverse events were rare and mild, mainly stomach pain/diarrhea (active n = 9, placebo n = 2).

Compared with placebo, 3 months of Omega 3/6 treatment improved reading ability - specifically the clinically relevant 'phonologic decoding time' and 'visual analysis time' - in mainstream schoolchildren. In particular, children with attention problems showed treatment benefits.


This new study builds on previous trials of dietary supplementation with omega-3 (and sometimes also omega-6) fatty acids for child behaviour and learning.  Results showed signficant improvements in a range of reading-related outcomes in children from mainstream schools after 3 months of fatty acid supplementation vs placebo.

In line with other successful trials, the supplement used contained 80% fish oil (rich in EPA, but with some DHA) and 20% evening primrose oil (containing the omega-6 fatty acid GLA).

A particular strength of this study was the use of a range of measures to assess different aspects of reading and related skills. 

It is also noteworthy that children with ADHD-type difficulties with attention and concentration showed particular benefits, in line with previous controlled trials showing benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in reducing ADHD-type symptoms.

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