Food and Behaviour Research

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Children's diet link to disorders

by Felicity Lawrence

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Study shows dramatic effect of fish oil supplement


This article reports on results from the Oxford-Durham Trial of fatty acid supplementation in childen with DCD (dyspraxia), published in the May edition of Pediatrics. See

A detailed Special Report on this study by the lead author and academic Principal Investigator, Dr Alex Richardson, is also available exclusively to Associate members of FAB Research.

Meanwhile, relevant background information is freely available from this website via the following links:

02 May 2005 - The Guardian


Study shows dramatic effect of fish oil supplement

British children are suffering behavioural and learning disorders because their diets are deficient in vital nutrients needed for their brains to function normally, a study reveals today.

Rigorous scientific research shows that the performance of underachieving children, some of whom were also disruptive, improved dramatically when their diets were supplemented with fish oils. The fish oils contain omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for brain development and function but are largely missing from modern processed diets.

The study, published in this month's issue of the American journal Pediatrics and conducted by researchers from Oxford University's department of physiology, found that some 40% of the children made dramatic improvements in reading and spelling when given supplements high in omega-3 essential fats.

The data also shows a significant improvement in concentration and behaviour. Symptoms of the sort associated with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were reduced by an order of magnitude usually achieved with stimulants such as Ritalin. Parents reported that other health problems, such as eczema and asthma, also improved, although no specific data on these other conditions has been published in the study.

The research looked at 117 children aged five to 12 in 12 schools in Co Durham who were of normal ability but were underachieving and were suspected of having problems with coordination or motor skills, a condition known as dyspraxia. Dyspraxia is thought to affect at least 5% of British children to varying degrees - they may struggle to tie shoelaces or balance, for example.

The disorder frequently overlaps with dyslexia and ADHD, and is part of a range of condi tions that include autistic spectrum disorders. Researchers have been trying to establish why there has been a fourfold rise in these types of disorders in the past 15 to 20 years.

The Durham study followed a rigorous scientific method called a randomised double blind placebo-controlled trial.

Children were assessed for their motor skills, IQ, reading, spelling and behaviour. Testing confirmed they had dyspraxia.

Half were given supplements of essential fats, over three months, and half were given placebos of olive oil. Neither the children nor the assessors knew which was receiving which. After three months, the placebo group were also given the supplements.

Children on the supple ments of omega-3 fatty acids made nine to 10 months' progress in their reading in three months, compared with the control group, who made the normal progress of three months. When the group on placebos was switched to active supplements, it too made similar leaps in progress.

None of the children had been diagnosed as suffering from ADHD, although a third were found to have sufficient problems to put them in this category. After three months of fish oils, half of them showed so much improvement that they no longer fell into this category.

The early results of the research, which began in 2002, were so dramatic that they attracted considerable publicity before the codes to establish which group had been on the fish oils and which had been on placebos had been broken. Now that the full data is available it proves what has been increasingly feared by parents and teachers - that children's diets today are inadequate for their basic needs.

Dr Alexandra Richardson, who led the research, said: "Food affects behaviour. If you paid attention to diet, you could really make a difference."