Food and Behaviour Research

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The DOLAB Study - The Docosahexaneoic Acid (DHA) Oxford Learning and Behavior Study

Date: 2010

The DHA Oxford Learning and Behaviour (DOLAB) study is being carried out by researchers in the Centre for Evidence Based Intervention at the University of Oxford, in association with Oxfordshire Local Education Authority.

The aim is to look at the effects of dietary supplementation with DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) on children's learning and behaviour. The study will involve 360 children aged 7 to 9 years from mainstream Oxfordshire primary schools.

Background

In recent years there has been mounting interest in the possible benefits of an increased dietary intake of omega 3 for mental as well as physical health.

These essential fats are vital for a healthy heart and immune system, and they are even more important for the development and function of our brains. Unfortunately, however, average levels of omega 3 are very low in most modern western-type diets.

Previous research has shown that increasing children's dietary intake of the omega 3 found in fish and seafood (EPA and DHA) can improve their concentration, reduce disruptive behaviour, and boost reading and spelling progress. This study will investigate whether dietary supplementation with a vegetarian form of DHA alone may have similar benefits for children's learning and behaviour.

This study builds on the growing research base in this field. The two Principal Investigators are Dr Alex Richardson, who has more than 20 years' experience in this area, and Dr Paul Montgomery, whose primary expertise lies in evidence-based intervention.

The study is being sponsored by the University of Oxford. Funding has been provided by Martek Biosciences, who make the DHA supplement we are testing.

Study hypothesis:

That docosahexaneoic acid (DHA) (in a daily dose of 600mg) will improve the behaviour and learning of normal children aged 7-9 years in mainstream state schools who are underperforming according to nationally standardised tests.

Study design:

Randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial.

Participants inclusion criteria:

1.  Children (both males and females) aged 7-9 years of age from mainstream state schools who areunderperforming in literacy skills according to nationally standardised assessments of scholastic achievement at age 7 years (Key Stage 1).  To be eligible, children must score below the 33rd centile for reading/writing, but within the normal range in at least one other domain.

2.  English as a first language. 

Interventions:

The active intervention will consist of 3 x 500mg capsules per day orally, each capsule providing 200mg of DHA as triglyceride.  The liquid fill contains DHASCO®-S oil dervied from the microalgae Schizochytrium sp, high-oleic sunflower oil, natural mixed tocopherols, ascorbyl palmitate, and rosemary extract (flavouring).  The gelatin shell contains glycerin, water, and colouring (carmel, carmine, turmeric).

The placebo will consist of 3 x 500mg capsules per day orally containing high-oleic sunflower oil.  The dimensions, taste, appearance and colour will be identical to those of the DHA capsules.  The shell of the capsule will be the same as the DHA capsule.  The liquid fill contains high-oleic sunflower oil, natural mixed tocopherols, ascorbyl palmitat and rosemary extract (flavouring).

Duration of interventions:  16 weeks

Primary outcome measures:

Children's age-standardised scores for behaviour (teacher ratings of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)-type symptoms) and learning (reading performance and working memory), assessed post-intervention.  The following validated measures will be used:

1.  Conners Teacher and Parent Ratings (CTRS-L and CPRS-L)
2.  British Ability Scale (BAS II): Word reading
3.  British Ability Scale (BAS II): Recall of Digits

Secondary outcome measures:

Correlations between changes in omega-3 (DHA) status and the primary outcomes plus any post-intervention changes in sleep (Combined Sleep Disturbance Index, and in 10% subset monitored objectively with actigraphy, sleep latency and duration).

Update 6 Sept 2012:  This study has now been completed and the results published on PLoS One.  

See:

Richardson et al 2012 - Docosahexaenoic Acid for Reading, Cognition and Behavior in Children Aged 7–9 Years: A Randomized, Controlled Trial (The DOLAB Study)