Children whose reading test scores place them in the bottom 20% of their elementary class may benefit from supplements of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, according to a new controlled trial.
Oxford University’s Center for Evidence-Based Intervention studied 362 children ages 7-9 who had placed in the bottom third of their class in reading scores. For 16 weeks, the children were given either a placebo or 600 mg of DHA. The DHA was extracted from algae, which are the original source of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish.
The children receiving placebos progressed in their reading skills as expected. Those students who received DHA and had scored in the bottom 20% of readers at the start of the study advanced by nearly an extra month, while those in the bottom 10% gained nearly two extra months of progress. Students whose reading skills were less impaired did not see extra improvements with DHA.
Parents of the kids who received DHA also rated their children as more attentive and less restless, as compared with those who got placebo. However, teachers did not report improvement in the children’s behavior.
Other studies have shown that kids with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), who were given omega-3 supplements, showed improved behavior. DHA is an essential nutrient, which cannot be manufactured by the body, and is used by virtually all cells. It is especially important for vision and brain function, particularly during early development. “DHA is critical for vision and it’s possible that improvements in visual perception might allow children to read better, but it all remains speculative.”
Experts say the best way to make sure that your child is getting enough omega-3s is to improve their diet. Fatty fish such as salmon, herring, halibut and tuna are good sources of DHA and EPA. Fish tacos are an excellent way to add omega-3s to the household menu as well as tuna sandwiches. Many other foods are now fortified with DHA such as yogurt, milk, soymilk, granola bars, bread, pasta, margarine, orange juice, cereal, peanut butter and even eggs. Nuts are also an excellent source.
Supplements are also a good choice for children who have certain food allergies. While there is little danger from getting too many omega-3s in a typical diet, they do have anti-clotting actions and could be dangerous for people with blood clotting disorders or those taking anti-clotting medication.