Fish oil supplements, seafood and some algae contain fatty acids which may improve reading skills of schoolchildren, says a study.
Children with attention problems, in particular, may be helped in their reading with the addition of these fatty acids, the study said.
"Our study suggests that children could benefit from a dietary supplement with a special formula," said Mats Johnson from Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
‘Fatty acids are important for signal transmission between nerve cells and the regulation of signaling systems in the brain.’
The study included 154 schoolchildren from Sweden in grade three, between nine and ten years old.
The children took a computer-based test (known as the Logos test) that measured their reading skills in a variety of ways, including reading speed, ability to read nonsense words and vocabulary.
The children were randomly assigned to receive either capsules with omega-3 and omega-6, or identical capsules that contained a placebo (palm oil) for three months.
The children, parents and researchers did not learn until the study was completed which children had received fatty acids and which had received the placebo.
"Even after three months, we could see that the children's reading skills improved with the addition of fatty acids, compared with those who received the placebo. This was particularly evident in the ability to read a nonsense word aloud and pronounce it correctly (phonologic decoding), and the ability to read a series of letters quickly (visual analysis time)," Johnson said.
No children diagnosed with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) were included in the study, but with the help of the children's parents, the researchers could identify children who had milder attention problems.
The findings published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry showed that these children with mild attention problems attained even greater improvements in several tests, including faster reading already after three months of receiving fatty acid supplements.
Polyunsaturated fats and their role in children's learning and behavior is a growing research area.
"Our modern diet contains relatively little omega-3, which it is believed to have a negative effect on our children when it comes to learning, literacy and attention," Johnson said.
"The cell membranes in the brain are largely made up of polyunsaturated fats, and there are studies that indicate that fatty acids are important for signal transmission between nerve cells and the regulation of signaling systems in the brain," Johnson noted.