Originally published September 24 2013
Low omega-3s in children causes difficulties in reading, learning
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) The more that academic research is done on omega-3 fatty acids, the more science proves what we've known here for years: That they have distinct health benefits that can no longer seriously be ignored.
The latest research comes from the respected Oxford University in the UK, where scientists have found a link between low levels of omega-3s and difficulty in learning.
In conducting their study, Oxford researchers first discovered that school-aged children between 7-9 years old reliably had low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood. A press release by the university said, "Furthermore, the study 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."
The results of the study, which were published recently in the journal PLOS One, were explained at a conference in London Sept. 4.
Omega 3s are essential, but the body doesn't make them
The study, which was published by Dr. Alex Richardson and Prof. Paul Montgomery, both of Oxford, is one of the first to examine levels of omega-3 in the blood of UK schoolchildren.
Long-chain omega-3s are found in fish, seafood and some forms of algae, the researchers note, adding that they have been found to be essential for the brain's structure and function, as well as for the maintenance of a healthy heart and cardiovascular and immune systems.
Per the press release:
Parents also 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 government's 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.
In the study, blood samples were taken from 493 school children, between the ages of seven and nine years, from 74 mainstream schools in Oxfordshire. All of the children sampled were believed to have below-average reading skills, based on national assessments at the age of seven or the current judgments of their teachers.
After analyzing blood samples, researchers determined that, on average, just under two percent of the children's total blood fatty acids were omega-3 DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), and 0.5 percent were omega-3 EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid), with a total of 2.45 percent for these long-chained omega-3s combined.
That is well below the minimum of 4 percent recommended by leading scientists to maintain good cardiovascular health in adults, researchers said, with 8-12 percent believed to be optimal for maintaining a healthy heart.
Link between low omega-3 levels and reduced learning capability
"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. 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," Montgomery said.
"These results are particularly noteworthy given that we had a 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. Although further research is needed, we think it is likely that these findings could be applied generally to schoolchildren throughout the UK," he said.
"The longer term health implications of such low blood Omega-3 levels in children obviously can't be known. But this study suggests that 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," added Richardson. "That gives serious cause for concern because we found that lower blood DHA was linked with poorer behavior and learning in these children."
Continuing, he said, "Most of the children we 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. Similarly, few took supplements or foods fortified with these Omega-3."
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