Fishing for reading skills

Reading is a fundamental requirement for just about every aspect of life. If a child struggles with reading they struggle to take in instructions for other tasks and soon they can fall behind in all of their school work. The really good news is that a new study has shown that kids in the lowest levels of reading capability can really benefit from taking omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids come in the diet mainly from fish, seafood, and algae or seaweed. In the western diet omega-3 oils are generally lacking and supplementing with these oils has a range of health benefits both physical and mental. Previous research has shown that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids can help kids with neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD so researchers from Oxford University wondered whether they might also help children from the general population.

To test this they gathered seven to nine year old children attending mainstream Oxfordshire primary schools and who had done poorly in standardised reading tests. For four months half of these children were given a daily dose of 600mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, that had been derived from algae. The other half were given a placebo.

The kids in the study came from the lowest third of the overall population and for the group as a whole the omega-3 supplementation showed no significant benefit. However, when the researchers looked only at the results for kids from the lowest 20 per cent of the population, those children gained an extra 0.8 months of reading age over the months of the study compared to the placebo group. Going further, the kids from the bottom ten per cent of the general population showed even greater benefit, adding an extra 1.9 months to their reading age compared to the placebo group.

It seems that the children with the greatest problems received the greatest benefits from omega-3 supplementation. Given the general health benefits of omega-3 and their safety, it is worth looking at dietary ways to lift omega-3 levels in kids and turning to supplements if necessary. It is something we should look at as a society after all, what price do you put on a literate generation?

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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