An Oxford University study has shown that a representative sample of UK schoolchildren aged seven to nine years had low levels of key omega-3 fatty acids in their blood.
What's more, the study found that children's blood levels of a particular omega-3 called DHA (the form found in most abundance in the brain) significantly predicted how well they were able to concentrate and learn. The omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA) found in oily fish and some algae, are essential for the brain's structure and function as well as for maintaining a healthy heart and immune system.
Parents also reported on their child's diet, revealing to the researchers that almost nine out of ten children in the sample ate fish less than twice a week, and nearly one in ten never ate fish at all. The government's guidelines for a healthy diet recommend at least two portions of fish a week since omega-3 fats have to come from our diets.
Blood samples were taken from 493 schoolchildren, aged between seven and nine years. All of the children were thought to have below-average reading skills, based on national assessments at the age of seven or their teachers' current judgments.
Analyses of their blood samples showed that, on average, just under two per cent of the children's total blood fatty acids were omega-3 DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and 0.5 per cent was omega-3 EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). This is below the minimum of 4 per cent recommended by leading scientists to maintain cardiovascular health in adults, with 8-12 per cent regarded as optimal for a healthy heart, the researchers reported.
The researchers concluded that levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood significantly predicted a child's behaviour and ability to learn. Higher levels of blood omega-3's, DHA in particular, were associated with better reading and memory, as well as with fewer behaviour problems as rated by parents and teachers.
The current findings build on earlier work by the same researchers, showing that dietary supplementation with DHA improved both reading progress and behaviour in children from the general school population who were behind on their reading. Their previous research has already shown benefits of supplementation with long-chain omega-3 (EPA+DHA) for children with ADHD, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, and related conditions.
Source: PLOS One, September 2013
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