Food and Behaviour Research

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

Richardson A J, Burton J R, Sewell R P, Spreckelsen T F, Montgomery P (2012) PLoS One.  2012;7(9): e43909. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043909.  

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Abstract:

Background

Omega-3 fatty acids are dietary essentials, and the current low intakes in most modern developed countries are believed to contribute to a wide variety of physical and mental health problems. Evidence from clinical trials indicates that dietary supplementation with long-chain omega-3 may improve child behavior and learning, although most previous trials have involved children with neurodevelopmental disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or developmental coordination disorder (DCD). Here we investigated whether such benefits might extend to the general child population.

Objectives

To determine the effects of dietary supplementation with the long-chain omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) on the reading, working memory, and behavior of healthy schoolchildren.

Design

Parallel group, fixed-dose, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (RCT).

Setting

Mainstream primary schools in Oxfordshire, UK (n = 74).

Participants

Healthy children aged 7–9 years initially underperforming in reading (=33rd centile). 1376 invited, 362 met study criteria.

Intervention

600 mg/day DHA (from algal oil), or taste/color matched corn/soybean oil placebo.

Main Outcome Measures

Age-standardized measures of reading, working memory, and parent- and teacher-rated behavior.

Results

ITT analyses showed no effect of DHA on reading in the full sample, but significant effects in the pre-planned subgroup of 224 children whose initial reading performance was =20th centile (the target population in our original study design). Parent-rated behavior problems (ADHD-type symptoms) were significantly reduced by active treatment, but little or no effects were seen for either teacher-rated behaviour or working memory.

Conclusions

DHA supplementation appears to offer a safe and effective way to improve reading and behavior in healthy but underperforming children from mainstream schools. Replication studies are clearly warranted, as such children are known to be at risk of low educational and occupational outcomes in later life.