Can Fish Oils (omega 3s) help Dyslexia?

The DRT has financed many studies that have shown that children with dyslexia, developmental coordination disorder (dyspraxia) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or combinations of these can often benefit from taking fish oil supplements. These provide the long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) that make up 20% of the weight of the brain. The omega-3 FAs, eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA), can only be obtained easily from oily fish; but they are particularly essential for sharp brain function because magnocellular neurones are especially vulnerable to PUFA deficiency.

However most people eat far too little oily fish nowadays. Our recent Oxford-Durham study showed in a double blind randomised control trial (RCT), that 3 months' supplemental fish oil capsules helped the reading, spelling and concentration of children with dyspraxia; their reading age improved by a massive 9 months in the 3 months. Similar improvements were seen in a study of ADHD children as well. Furthermore we have noticed remarkable improvements in some of the children attending our DRT clinics after we have recommended them taking fish oil supplements. These are being quantified at the moment.

Adults can be helped as well. People often worry that after childhood brain structure is fixed. But the brain is continuously adapting and LCPUFAs move in and out of nerve membranes quite fast. Any losses must therefore be provided by the diet, because the body cannot manufacture them by itself. So there is much anecdotal evidence that EPA supplements can also help adults. Bernard Gesch has recently joined our group, and supported by the charity, Natural Justice which was set up by the late Bishop Hugh Montefiore, he was able to show, again in a RCT, that simply adding fish oils, minerals and vitamins to the diets of over 200 young offenders reduced their violence by an amazing 30%. We have recently been funded by the Wellcome Trust to carry out a much larger trial to confirm this result and test whether improved magnocellular function is its basis.

Also we are now conducting a controlled treatment trial of adding fish oil, vitamin and mineral supplements to the diet of disadvantaged children in Barking to see if this improves their school performance and behaviour. We then have to ensure that the results of these studies are translated into Policy covering all eligible people.