All of the cells in the body need essential fatty acids. They are especially important for young children and fetus in order for the brain to develop normally. Both omega-3 and omega-6 are essential fatty acids, it means that the body cannot create them, they must therefore be part of the diet. Mother's milk contains these fatty acids, but the amount varies and is dependent on the mother's eating habits (see Pregnant).
Supplementation with DHA in infant formula during the first four months in life can improve mental development at 18 months of age, this according to a report from 2000 (Birch et al.). Skills such as problem solving and memory were tested in this study. The children who were fed supplementation with DHA scored 4 points better than those who were fed infant formula without DHA. Those who were given supplementation with DHA plus AA (arachidonic acid) scored an additional 3 points better than those who received only DHA. Adults normally have no need for any extra intake of linoleic acid since most of us already consume too much omega-6.
Eskimo Kids and Eye q (see Supplements) are two fish oils that have been developed especially for children as they contain not only EPA and DHA, but also a small amount of omega-6. Linoleic acid is the mother of all the omega-6 fatty acids, and the body can create AA and GLA (gamma-linoleic acid) from linoleic acid.
ADHD and Dyslexia
ADHD is short for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder that is characterized by concentration difficulties, impulsiveness and hyperactivity. Research has shown that some children with ADHD have a lower concentration of some key fatty acids in their cells compared to other children (Stevens et al.). The essential fatty acids can furthermore improve reading for children with dyslexia.
The Oxford-Durham Study
In the Oxford-Durham study supplementation with fish oil have had a very positive effect on children with dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD. It all started when the local school authorities in Durham was worried about the fact that many of their pupils had concentration problems. The school authorities had discovered the latest reseach about essential fatty acids and therefore started a programme to investigate whether this could help their pupils.
In the largest and best known study at Durham children at the age of 5 to 12 participated. The study has also been published in the journal Pediatrics (Richardson et al.). During six months 12,000 assessments were done on 117 children from 12 schools. The pupils who participated had difficulties with learning, behavior and coordination. During the first three months half of the children were given active capsules with EPA, DHA and a small amount of GLA. The children in the control group were given placebo capsules for the first three months of the study, but during the last three months they were also given active capsules.
Motor skills, reading, spelling, memory, drawing and handwriting were measured and evaluated. The results were very positive already three months into the study. The children that had been given essential fatty acids improved their reading significantly compared to the control group. The gains were equivalent to 9.5 months in reading and 6.5 months in spelling. When the control group also received active capsules during the last three months they too improved significantly their reading and spelling, equivalent to 13.5 months and 6 months.
The children that had been given active capsules also showed improvements in their behavior after 3 months. At the start of the study 32 percent were within the clinical range of ADHD. After three months it had dropped to 18 percent. In the placebo group the improvement was barely noticeable.
Read more about the Durham study at www.durhamtrial.org.