Functional Foods & Nutraceuticals July 2005
By Shane Starling
July 2005 ~ An extended study has highlighted the important role nutrition plays in affecting the behaviour and learning ability of children. Although the Oxford University study focused on 120 pupils diagnosed with dyspraxia (a developmental coordination disorder), the potential positive effects for large numbers of ‘normal’ school-aged children, and indeed the adult population, if nutritional changes can be made, are compelling.
The double-blind study gave the 5- to 12-year-old children, many of whom had accompanying attention deficit problems and dyslexia, either an olive oil placebo or a fish oil-derived omega-3 fatty acid supplement. Those on the supplement showed greatly increased concentration and ability to process information within three months of taking the supplement, with an average advancement in reading age of about nine months and spelling age of six months.
Over the full six-month length of the trial, further improvements became obvious, according to Dr Madeleine Portwood, senior educational psychologist at the Durham Local Education Authority in England, which oversees the schools where the trial took place, and lead author of the research. “For some of the children on the trial, we saw dramatic improvements in reading ability, progressing by as much as four or five years in some cases,” she said. “In terms of their handwriting, we also saw marked differences. Their confidence and self-esteem also improved. And many of the children who were previously excitable and hyperactive found themselves able to concentrate.”
UK-based nutritionist Fiona Hunter noted it is not just the introduction of nutrients like essential fatty acids that can benefit brain function and behaviour. Other inputs like trans fats actually block the brain’s uptake of the nutrients it requires and could therefore negatively affect learning and behaviour, she said.
The research mirrors the results of other studies such as a double-blind UK trial conducted in 2002 among adult-age prisoners where anti-social behaviour and number of offences committed was reduced after the introduction of a vitamin, mineral and fatty acid supplement.
What is becoming apparent is that mood, behaviour and achievement are affected if the brain is not able to access the nutrients it requires to function correctly. It begs the question: if the brain is undernourished in this way, how much is anyone, from a disruptive child to a criminal, in control of their behaviour?
Here's a report on the “The Durham Dyspraxia Trial”.