Evidence that Omega 3 supplements can improve the performance of kids at school remains inconclusive, according to one of the UK's leading experts on children with learning difficulties.
Professor Amanda Kirby, medical director of the Dyscovery Centre at the University of Wales, said more research was required after a 16-week study with 450 children produced mixed results.
The study, published in the journal Research in Developmental Disabilities was carried out on children aged eight to ten across a range of social classes at 17 schools in Newport, Wales. Over four months, half the children were given supplements and half were given placebos, with children, parents, teachers and scientists all unaware of who had taken what.
A range of measures were used to determine the effectiveness of the supplements on the children, including psychological assessments and reports on the children's behaviour from both teachers and parents. Results indicated that reading, spelling and co-ordination didn't improve among the kids who took the supplements, but there was a rise in teacher scores on the children's attention.
"Very little is really known about the effects of fatty acids such as Omega 3, and our research to date reveals that, although teachers reported improvements in the children's attention in class, there was little evidence that the children's reading, spelling and co-ordination were affected by taking supplements," said Kirby.
"We didn't expect to see dramatic changes in behaviour and learning because the children didn't have a disorder. However, the fact we saw some changes in the behaviour and learning of the children is significant. Much more research is needed into whether Omega 3 supplements can genuinely improve the learning and behaviour of children in mainstream schooling."
1. Children's learning and behaviour and the association with cheek cell polyunsaturated fatty acid levels, By A Kirby, A Woodward, S Jackson, Y Wang and M A Crawford
2. Research in Developmental Disabilities, Volume 31, Issue 3, May-June 2010, Pages 731-742. View the paper in full.