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Nutrition is essential for a child’s development and lifelong health. Early nutritional shortfalls are associated with impaired neurological development and growth. Findings from a new study indicate that blood levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid, predict how well children concentrate and learn.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for human health. DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid found in the human brain and the meat of fatty fish. It plays a key role in the development of eye and nerve tissues and is essential for normal brain function in humans. Dietary sources of DHA include krill oil, salmon and (especially the roe), flying fish, and pollock.

The randomized controlled study involved 362 children between the ages of seven and nine years who had below-average reading skills, with most of the children reading at levels about 18 months younger than their chronological ages. Each of the children took either 600 milligrams of supplemental DHA per day or a placebo for 16 weeks. At the end of the study period, the authors of the study assessed the children for changes in reading, working memory, and behavior, including attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, based on performance and teacher and parental assessments.

Although the authors of the study didn’t observe improvements in reading scores in the supplemented group as a whole, they did see small improvements among those who were reading at the lowest levels. Children reading at the 20th percentile gained nearly a month in terms of reading age level. Those reading at the 10th percentile gained nearly two months – roughly a 50 percent improvement above what would normally be expected. The parents reported improvements in behavior, but the teachers did not. Supplementation did not affect the children’s working memory.

These findings suggest that supplemental DHA provides an effective means to improve reading and behavior in children with poor reading skills.

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