Data from 493 British schoolchildren also showed that the levels were also low relative to adult cardiovascular health recommendations, report researchers from the Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention at the University of Oxford.
“The finding that low-Omega-3 LC-PUFA, and DHA in particular, predict behavior and learning problems in this large sample of healthy, but underperforming children attending mainstream schools suggests that the benefits from dietary supplementation found in ADHD and related conditions may extend to a wider population,” they wrote in the journal PLOS ONE.
“This question can only be addressed by well-powered intervention studies, but meanwhile, the low blood Omega-3 status found across this sample would indicate that an increased dietary intake might be beneficial on general health grounds.”
Investing in the future
Commenting independently on the results of the study, Harry Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), told NutraIngredients-USA: "In this study, the LC O-3 status of the children was frighteningly low, particularly given that adequate levels of DHA are critical for normal brain and nervous system development. It stands to reason that these children would under-perform in school.
“Results from this study provide further evidence for the need to increase long-chain omega-3 intake in this vulnerable population, the future of tomorrow."
The study follows earlier data from the DOLAB study published in PLOS last year. Findings showed that DHA supplementation had a robust impact in aiding ‘underperforming’ children.
Speaking with NutraIngredients after the earlier publication, Dr Alex Richardson, head author and researcher of the study, told us: “These findings are really quite promising.”
Richardson explained that it is well-known and documented that the critical period for omega-3 impacts on brain function is early on; pre-natal especially.
“This is what makes the findings all the more impressive as it showed DHA impact well outside the most critical period,” Richardson said.
“We have shown that in the mainstream, general population, something as simple and safe as DHA can benefit reading abilities.”
For the new study, the researchers measured blood fatty acids from 493 seven to nine year olds with below average reading performance.
Results showed that DHA and EPA accounted for only 1.9% and 0.55% of total blood fatty acids, respectively.
“Concentrations below 4% EPA+DHA in red cell membranes (i.e. the Omega-3 index) are considered to signify high cardiovascular risk, and 8–12% the optimal range,” wrote the researchers. “The longer term implications of the very low values found in these UK schoolchildren obviously cannot be known, but give cause for concern.”
Additional number crunching revealed that lower DHA concentrations were associated with poorer reading ability, working memory, and higher oppositional behavior and emotional ability.
The study was funded by Martek Biosciences Inc (now DSM Nutritional Products).
Source: PLOS ONE
Published online ahead of print, 10.1371/journal.pone.0066697
“Low Blood Long Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids in UK Children Are Associated with Poor Cognitive Performance and Behavior: A Cross-Sectional Analysis from the DOLAB Study”
Authors: Paul Montgomery, Jennifer R. Burton, Richard P. Sewell, Thees F. Spreckelsen, Alexandra J. Richardson