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By Traci Pedersen
Omega 3 Strongly Linked to Behavior, Learning in ChildrenResearchers at the University of Oxford have found that a child’s blood levels of long-chain Omega-3 DHA can significantly predict how well he or she is able to concentrate and learn. The study, published in the journal PLOS One, is one of the first to evaluate blood Omega-3 levels in UK schoolchildren.

“From a sample of nearly 500 schoolchildren, we found that levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in the blood significantly predicted a child’s behavior and ability to learn,” said co-author Paul Montgomery, Ph.D., from Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention.

“Higher levels of Omega-3 in the blood, and DHA in particular, were associated with better reading and memory, as well as with fewer behavior problems as rated by parents and teachers,” he said.

For the study, blood samples were taken from 493 schoolchildren, between the ages of seven and nine. 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 revealed 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 percent were Omega-3 EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid), with a total of 2.45 percent for these long-chain Omega-3 combined. This is below the minimum of 4 percent recommended by leading scientists, with 8-12 percent regarded as optimal, the researchers reported.

Parents also reported 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 longer term health implications of such low blood Omega-3 levels in children obviously can’t be known,” said co-author Dr Alex Richardson.

“But this study suggests that many, if not most UK children, probably aren’t getting enough of the long-chain Omega-3 we all need for a healthy brain, heart and immune system.”

“That gives serious cause for concern because we found that lower blood DHA was linked with poorer behavior and learning in these children. Most of the children we studied had blood levels of long-chain Omega-3 that in adults would indicate a high risk of heart disease.

This was consistent with their parents’ reports that most of them failed to meet current dietary guidelines for fish and seafood intake. Similarly, few took supplements or foods fortified with these Omega-3,” he said.

The findings build on previous studies conducted by the same researchers, showing that dietary supplementation with Omega-3 DHA improved both reading progress and behavior in children from the general school population who were struggling with reading.

Their earlier research has shown benefits of supplementation with long-chain omega-3 (EPA+DHA) for children with ADHD, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, and related conditions.

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