Dr Madeleine Portwood
Senior Educational Psychologist
A study of primary school children has confirmed that supplements of the Omega-3 fatty acid found in fish and flax seed oils could take them from bottom of the class to the top in just two school terms.
The results of The Durham Trial published today (Sept 29, 2003) state that more than 40% of children could benefit from Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) supplements. The study, which involved a dozen primary schools, concludes that children given these ‘brain food’ supplements register dramatic improvements in reading age and numeracy.
Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for normal brain development, according to The Durham Trial, but these EFAs are seriously lacking in modern diets and deficiencies are thought to be common.
Many researchers over the years have found links between diet and mental health including IQ, criminal behaviour and schizophrenia, but this latest study is one of the most definitive placebo controlled trials recorded so far.
Dr Madeleine Portwood, a psychologist with Durham education authority who led the research told the Sunday Times newspaper yesterday that: “We had nine-year olds go from a reading age of eight up to 13.”
In The Durham Trial, the children were tested on their numeracy, literacy, memory, concentration, co-ordination and other factors. Then half the children were given Omega-3 supplements, and the rest a placebo for three months before being tested again.
The Omega-3 fatty acids used in the trial were extracted from sardines, but Omega-3s can be obtained from Flax Seed Oil, which young children may find more palatable.
The Food Standards Agency recommends salmon, trout and mackerel for people looking to increase their intake of fish oils. It warned recently, however, that some fish can contain high levels of toxic chemicals such as mercury and dioxin.
For vegetarians and those concerned about the potential chemical toxicity of regular fish consumption, plant sources of EFAs such as Flax Seed Oil may be a good alternative.
Among the children who showed remarkable improvement was 9-year-old Elliott Best, who is featured in this week’s BBC tv show with Dr Robert Winston ‘The Human Mind’. Elliott, whose academic and behavioural markers were all well below average, improved beyond all recognition during and following the supplementation period. Elliott’s mother said: “He got top grades in his SATS tests, developed a taste for classical music and even an interest in the ballet.”