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Omega-3 fatty acids may improve children’s reading skills

December 9, 2012

Giving healthy, school-aged children with poor reading skills supplements of algal- docosahexaenoic acid improves their reading and behavior, suggests a new study from the UK.

To evaluate the potential effects of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) on the reading skills, working memory, and behavior of schoolchildren underperforming in reading, the randomized controlled trial included 362 healthy children aged 7-9 years who were given either 600 mg algal DHA per day or a placebo for 16 weeks (1). The study results showed that the supplementation significantly improved the reading test results of children with the poorest reading skills and led to an additional 0.8 to 1.9 month gain in reading age when compared to the placebo group. In addition, increased DHA intake significantly improved children’s behavior, as rated by parents.

The researchers noted that accumulating evidence from epidemiological and intervention studies suggests low dietary intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, and DHA in particular, may have a detrimental effect on children’s behavior and cognitive development. Additionally, dietary supplementation with long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA, may have benefits for child behavior and learning, including reading and spelling (2,3). Unfortunately, the potential benefits of DHA for learning and behavior are often not realized because children’s DHA intake is low, the scientists commented. Because average daily intake falls well below recom-mended amounts, dietary supplements of DHA and DHA­fortified foods seem to be viable ways of increasing DHA consumption.

Many school-aged children struggle with reading, the most fundamental educational skill (4). Because early reading skills provide the foundation for children’s academic success, and because poor readers are not only at risk of developing academic problems, but also social and behavioral problems, identifying strategies to improve reading is imperative.

References

  1. Richardson A. et al. Docosahexaenoic Acid for Reading, Cognition, and Behavior in Children Aged 7-9 Years: A Randomized, Controlled Trial (The DOLAB Study). PLoS-ONE. Published online September 2012.

  2. Richardson A. Omega-3 Fatty Acids in ADHD and Related Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Int Rev Psychiatry. 2006; 19:155–172.

  3. Bloch M. and Qawasmi A. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation for the Treatment of Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Symptomatology: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2011; 50:991–1000.

  4. Snow C. et al. Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. National Academy Press, 1998.