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Scientist Find Low Omega-3 Level Detriment to Childs Ability to Learn

By on October 28, 2015 in National Health News with 0 Comments
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The Oxford study has shown that a representative sample of UK schoolchildren, ages seven to nine years, had low levels of key Omega-3 fatty acids in their blood. It found that children’s blood levels of the long-chain Omega-3 DHA (the form found in most abundance in the brain) ‘significantly predicted’ how well they were able to concentrate and learn. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

by Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink and Oxford University staff

A dinner of grilled tuna or salmon teriyaki helps kids improve their performance at school according to a study from Oxford University in the UK. After taking blood samples from nearly 500 children between the ages of seven and nine, scientists found that low omega-3  levles of fatty acids “significantly predicted” their ability to read, concentrate, and learn.

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A dinner of grilled tuna or salmon teriyaki helps kids improve their performance at school. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

The Oxford study has shown that a representative sample of UK schoolchildren, ages seven to nine years, had low levels of key Omega-3 fatty acids in their blood. It found that children’s blood levels of the long-chain Omega-3 DHA (the form found in most abundance in the brain) ‘significantly predicted’ how well they were able to concentrate and learn.

Oxford University researchers findings were recently published in the journal PLOS One. The study was co-authored by Dr. Alex Richardson and Professor Paul Montgomery from Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention.

It is one of the first to evaluate blood Omega-3 levels in UK schoolchildren. The long-chain Omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA) found in fish, seafood and some algae, are essential for the brain’s structure and function as well as for maintaining a healthy heart and immune system.

Child’s Diet Revealing to Researchers

Parents reported on 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 UK guidelines for a healthy diet recommend at least two portions of fish a week. This is because like vitamins, omega-3 fats have to come from our diets – and although humans can in theory make some EPA and DHA from shorter-chain omega-3 (found in some vegetable oils), research has shown this conversion is not reliable, particularly for DHA, say the researchers.

“We found that levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in the blood significantly predicted a child’s behavior and ability to learn,” said Professor Paul Montgomery with . Photo: Oxford University

“We found that levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in the blood significantly predicted a child’s behavior and ability to learn,” said Professor Paul Montgomery (left) with Dr. Alex Richardson . Photo: Paul Montgomery

Blood samples were taken from 493 schoolchildren, aged between seven and nine years, from 74 mainstream schools in Oxfordshire.  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 showed 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 per cent were Omega-3 EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid), with a total of 2.45 per cent for these long-chain Omega-3 combined. This is below the minimum of 4 per cent recommended by leading scientists to maintain cardiovascular health in adults, with 8-12 per cent regarded as optimal for a healthy heart, the researchers reported.

“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,” Professor Paul Montgomery said. “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.”

Children Lacking Long-Chain Omega-3

Results from the study are particularly noteworthy given the restricted range of scores, especially with respect to blood DHA but also for reading ability, as around two-thirds of these children were still reading below their age-level when we assessed them.

“The longer term health implications of such low blood Omega-3 levels in children obviously can’t be known. The study suggests 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,” explained Dr. Alex Richardson, author of “They Are What You Feed Them”. “That gives serious cause for concern because we found that lower blood DHA was linked with poorer behavior and learning in these children.”

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“The longer term health implications of such low blood Omega-3 levels in children obviously can’t be known.” explained Dr. Alex Richardson, author of “They Are What You Feed Them”.
Photo: Dr. Alex Richardson

Most of the children 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. Few study participants took supplements or foods fortified with these Omega-3.

Current findings build on earlier work by the researchers, showing that dietary supplementation with Omega-3 DHA improved both reading progress and behavior in children from the general school population who were behind on their reading.

“Technical advances in recent years have enabled the measurement of individual Omega-3 and other fatty acids from finger stick blood samples. These new techniques have been revolutionary – because in the past, blood samples from a vein were needed for assessing fatty acids, and that has seriously restricted research into the blood Omega-3 status of healthy UK children until now,” said Dr. Richardson.

The authors believe these findings may be relevant to the general UK population, however, they caution that these findings may not apply to more ethnically diverse populations as some genetic differences can affect how Omega-3 fatty acids are metabolized. Most of the children participating in this study were white British.


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