Kirby A, Woodward A, Jackson S, Wang Y, Crawford MA. (2010) Res Dev Disabil. 31(3): 731-42. Epub 2010 Feb 20
Increasing interest in the role of omega-3 fatty acids in relation to neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. ADHD, dyslexia, autism) has occurred as a consequence of some international studies highlighting this link. In particular, some studies have shown that children with ADHD may have lower concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), particularly omega-3, in their red blood cells and plasma, and that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids may alleviate behavioural symptoms in this population. However, in order to compare levels it seems appropriate to establish fatty acid levels in a mainstream school aged population and if levels relate to learning and behaviour. To date no study has established this.
For this study, cheek cell samples from 411 typically developing school children were collected and analysed for PUFA content, in order to establish the range in this population. In addition, measures of general classroom attention and behaviour were assessed in these children by teachers and parents. Cognitive performance tests were also administered in order to explore whether an association between behaviour and/or cognitive performance and PUFA levels exists. Relationships between PUFA levels and socio-economic status were also explored.
Measures of reading, spelling and intelligence did not show any association with PUFA levels, but some associations were noted with the level of omega-3 fatty acids and teacher and parental reports of behaviour, with some evidence that higher omega-3 levels were associated with decreased levels of inattention, hyperactivity, emotional and conduct difficulties and increased levels of prosocial behaviour. These findings are discussed in relation to previous findings from omega-3 supplementation studies with children.