DHA Learning and Behaviour Clinical Trial (2012)

DSPI PI: Paul Montgomery; Alex Richardson

Funded by: Martek Biosciences Corporation

Completed: 2012

For DOLAB Confirmatory Study see here.

There has been mounting interest in the possible benefits of an increased dietary intake of Omega-3 for mental and physical health. Unfortunately, average levels of Omega-3 are very low in most modern Western-type diets. Previous research has shown that increasing children’s dietary intake of the Omega-3 found in fish and seafood (EPA and DHA) can improve their concentration, reduce disruptive behaviour and boost reading and spelling progress.

The DOLAB I study built on the growing research base in this field. The two Principal Investigators were Dr Alex Richardson, who has more than 20 years’ experience in this area, and Professor Paul Montgomery, whose primary expertise lies in evidence-based intervention. They partnered with the Oxfordshire Local Authority to undertake the DHA Oxford Learning and Behaviour (DOLAB) study.

This large double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial investigated the effects of Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on reading and behaviour in school children. It involved 362 children from 74 Oxfordshire primary schools. The study was sponsored by the University of Oxford. Funding was provided by DSM Nutritional Products who make the DHA supplement tested in the DOLAB study.

Design and Results

The project was carried out with 362 children in year groups 3, 4 and 5 in 74 mainstream Oxfordshire primary schools. It compared the effects of supplementation with DHA vs placebo over 16 weeks.

The findings appear promising, particularly for the poorest readers (those in the lowest fifth of the normal population range on a standardised reading assessment). For these children, both reading ability and behaviour reported by parents have shown a significant improvement in those children who received active treatment compared with those on placebo over the 16-week treatment period.

What next?

If these results can be confirmed, the implications would be profound, since there is an urgent need for safe, effective interventions for child learning and behavioural problems, which create substantial costs for society and affected individuals. The team has funding to carry out a replication study looking at the effects of DHA, specifically in those children who fall into the lowest 20% of readers for their age. This will be a larger study, and the aim is to enlist the help of at least six local authorities.