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Fish Oil and Children -The Durham Trials
Research has revealed that if the brain is not getting enough of the right fatty acids, it will use replacement fatty acids that are less than ideal, and this can have a negative impact on the way the brain works. Consequently, fatty acid deficiency is a factor worth considering with regard to learning difficulties and behavioral problems in children.
A local education authority in Durham, England, was concerned about the growing number of children who seemed unachievable due to an inability to focus and stay on task for any length of time, and sought to see if supplementing their diet with omega 3 fatty acids could change this.
Dozens of schools and hundreds of children have now participated in several research studies involving fatty acid supplementation through fish oil. These tests, conducted by Dr. Madeleine Portwood, have now become known as the Durham studies and have received considerable media attention in the UK and abroad for the dramatic effects that fish oil has on learning and behavior in the classroom. So far, studies have been carried out on preschool, primary and secondary school children.
The Oxford Durham Study
The largest of these trials was carried out in 2002 and involved more than 100 primary school children from 12 different schools in the Durham area, all of whom had developmental coordination disorder and some with other problems related to concentration and learning. The study, known as the Oxford-Durham Trial, was carried out in collaboration with the Oxford-based Dyslexia Research trust and Dr. Alex Richardson of the University of Oxford, who is an expert on fatty acids and the brain.
Children in the study received a daily capsule of either fish oil or a placebo, and because the study was double-blind, no one knew which child received what. During the week, the school staff administered the supplement to the children. Each child was given six 500mg capsules daily from Monday to Friday, with each capsule containing either fish oil or a placebo. Parents gave the children capsules on weekends, and assessments were conducted regularly throughout the study.
It can take weeks for fatty acid supplementation to have an effect, so the study was conducted over a six-month period, with half of the children taking fish oil for the full 6 months and the other half taking a placebo for the first 3 months and fish. oil for the second 3 months.
In the first 3 months, those taking fish oil from the start showed dramatic improvements in reading, spelling and behavior, with the placebo group showing similar improvements when they also started taking fish oil. In the original fish oil group, the average gain for reading was over 9 months and just over 6 months for spelling in the first 3 months, and they continued to show improvement after the first 3 months. When the placebo group switched to fish oil, they showed an increase of more than 12 months in reading and more than 6 months for spelling after only 3 months on fish oil.
The results of this study have not yet been fully analyzed, but early indications are “encouraging” and according to Dr Madeleine Portwood, up to 40% of children showed significant improvement.
Another study in Durham included kindergarten children aged 18 months to two and a half years, of whom 47 completed the test. After 5 months, 91% of those rated as very poor at baseline had improved, with only 4% rated as still poor or very poor.
Similar improvements were seen in concentration levels, with 79% rated as good or very good concentration levels after 5 months of supplementation. Language skills also improved significantly compared to control groups.
High school studies
This study was conducted in 2004 and focused on how fatty acids can help middle school children with ADHD symptoms; results were published in March 2006.
At baseline, 94% were rated as having moderate to severe ADHD and the same score for inattention and 89% as having other impulsivity problems. At 3 months, ratings of ADHD and impulsivity decreased to 28%, while inattention dropped to just 17%.
The results of the Durham trials seem to support the claim that the brain needs the right kind of fatty acids to develop and function normally. The fish oil used in these tests was high in the Omega 3 fatty acid EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which is believed to be the fatty acid that is mostly responsible for the efficient functioning of the brain itself.
Fish oil is quickly gaining recognition as an effective way to not only improve brain function but also reduce the risk of developing other health problems, so much so that the UK government is considering giving fish oil to all school children. to improve nutrition in general.
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