A growing number of research studies are showing that supplementation with essential fatty acids can benefit children with learning difficulties and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
One success story is that of Elliot Brown from Durham in the United Kingdom.
At the age of nine, Elliot could speak fluently, but couldn't read or write properly. However, when he was chosen to take part in a study aimed at establishing whether children with learning difficulties could benefit from omega-3 and omega-6 supplementation, his situation changed dramatically.
After a mere six months of treatment, Elliot's school grades improved and the boy was enthusiastic about doing his homework. He even developed an interest in classical music.
What the research shows
Elliot is one of more than 100 children who took part in a scientific study conducted by the Durham Local Education Authority.
According to a report by the Daily Mail, this study of 100 children was designed to find a way to help the 30% of children who are suffering from conditions such as dyslexia (a developmental disorder that affects a child's ability to read and write), dyspraxia (an inability to make skilled movements with accuracy) and ADHD, which is characterised by excessive activity levels and lack of concentration.
Researchers found that after taking tablets containing high-grade fish oils (with EPA, an omega-3 fatty acid) and virgin evening primrose oil (with GLA, an omega-6 fatty acid) for six months, the children's behaviour improved dramatically.
Furthermore, a 2006 University of South Australia study found that supplements containing omega-3 and omega-6 also improved hyperactivity and attention-span scores in a group of young Australians.
Experts believe that the different fatty acids have very specific functions. As an example, it's believed that EPA increases blood flow, regulates hormones and boosts the immune system – all of which have a positive effect on brain function. DHA, on the other hand, makes it easier for the brain to transit electrical signals.
It's a well-recognised fact that ADHD runs in families, so experts suspect that parents may be affected too. Once again, the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, in the form of fish and evening primrose oil, might be a solution.
It should be noted, however, that research on ADHD and fatty acids is ongoing and that no definite recommendations can be made as yet.
In the meantime, experts say that fatty-acid supplementation probably couldn’t hurt, but that it shouldn't be seen in isolation. When it comes to the treatment of ADHD, adequate sleep, a balanced, low-GI diet and regular exercise should also play an important role.
(Carine Visagie, Health24, updated March 2009)
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