Supplementing with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may improve reading skills of mainstream schoolchildren, according to a new study from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. Children with attention problems, in particular, may be helped in their reading with the addition of these fatty acids.
The study included 154 schoolchildren from western Sweden in grade 3, between nine and ten years old. The children took a computer-based test that measured their reading skills in a variety of ways, including reading speed, ability to read nonsense words and vocabulary.
The children were randomly assigned to receive either capsules with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, or identical capsules that contained a placebo for 3 months. (Omega-3 and omega-6 fats belong to the polyunsaturated family of fats.) The children, parents and researchers did not learn until the study was completed which children had received fatty acids and which had received the placebo.
After three months, all of the children received real omega-3/6 capsules for the final three months of the study.
Even after the first three months, the children's reading skills improved with the addition of fatty acids, compared with those who received the placebo. This was particularly evident in the ability to read a nonsense word aloud and pronounce it correctly (phonologic decoding), and the ability to read a series of letters quickly (visual analysis time).
No children diagnosed with ADHD were included in the study, but with the help of the children's parents, the researchers could identify children who had milder attention problems. These children attained even greater improvements in several tests after three months of receiving fatty acid supplements, including faster reading already.
Polyunsaturated fats important for the brain
Polyunsaturated fats and their role in children's learning and behavior is a growing research area.
Cell membranes in the brain are largely made up of polyunsaturated fats, and research indicates that fatty acids are important for signal transmission between nerve cells and the regulation of signaling systems in the brain.
While previous studies in which researchers examined the effect of omega-3 as a supplement for schoolchildren have not shown positive results, this may be due to what combination and doses of fatty acids were used.
Omega-3’s and omega-6’s in food
Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA EPA) are found in oily fish such as salmon, trout, sardines, herring and mackerel. Another omega-3 fat, called ALA for short, is plentiful in flax, chia and hemp seeds, walnuts, walnut oil, canola oil and soybeans.
Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in sunflower, safflower, soy, sesame, and corn oils.
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