Fish oil supplementation may improve reading and comprehension performance in children, according to a recent Swedish study. To assess this, researchers at the University of Gothenberg examined 154 children who were either given the omega-3 fatty acid supplement Equazen or a placebo pill. Children in the Equazen group showed a 64 percent improvement in overall comprehension compared with the placebo group, the study revealed. Data also showed that children who took the fish oil supplement were five times faster in decoding jumbled up words than those who took the placebo pill.
However, researchers found that the effects were replicated when the placebo group were given Equazen. “We were a bit surprised to see this level of effect in mainstream children. This has not been shown before. As a scientist, you always want a second study to confirm your findings, but these are very promising results,” said study lead researcher Dr Mats Johnson.
“It shows that Equazen is having a great effect on reading scores for mainstream children. A child who is a poor reader is likely to show behavioral problems and an inability to focus on learning tasks two years later. Similarly, children who show early signs of behavioral problems are more likely to develop reading problems,” said public health nutritionist Dr. Emma Derbyshire.
Fish oil boosts school performance in children
The recent findings coincide with various studies that previously examined the efficacy of fish oil supplements in improving the overall school performance in children.
Fish oil supplementation was associated with higher subject scores among students who took their annual standard assessment test, a 2007 study revealed. Research data showed that 92 percent of students met the required standard for English, a significant increase from a pre-estimated rate of only 68 percent. The study also showed that 92 percent of children met the national standards in maths, up from a pre-estimated passing rate of 78 percent. Marked improvements in concentration and behavior were also observed in children, researchers said.
The researchers also found that daily omega-3 supplementation lead to significant improvements in reading comprehension among younger students. Data showed that seven and eight-year-old pupils started with an average reading of nine months above their age, but finished with an average reading of 18 moths above their age at three months following fish oil supplementation.
The Durnham County Council in the U.K. also examined more than 3,000 grade 11 pupils and found that those who took Omega-3 and Omega-6 capsules had average scores that were 17.7 points higher than those in the control group.
Fish oil improves cognitive function in babies
Data from a placebo-controlled study showed that fish oil supplementation during pregnancy helped improve visual acuity in babies. High fish intake was also associated with having significantly smarter infants, another study demonstrated. However, elevated levels of hair mercury seemed to dampen the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids, researchers said.
Fish oils are packed with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which was shown to promote learning and visual acuity in infants. An analysis of 109 infants and their mothers demonstrated that higher cord blood levels of DHA resulted in better visual acuity, cognitive function, and motor development in babies during their first year. The results stress on the importance of increased essential fatty acid intake during the third trimester to promote photoreceptor development and synaptogenesis in the brain. (RELATED: Visit Brain.news for more coverage of nutrition for the brain.)
In a related study, children and women with high DHA levels in their blood cells exhibited above average scores in an intelligence test regardless of their fish oil intake. The results published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggest that long-term fatty acid intake may show greater efficacy in boosting cognitive performance than supplementation alone.