Brain Food?; Fish Oil Supplements Have Been Flying off the Shelves since the BBC's Child of Our Time TV Series Revealed They Could Calm Disruptive Children and Make Them More Sociable. So Should All Our Kids Be Getting a Daily Dose?

Article excerpt

Byline: ANGELA DOWDEN

EVERY parent wants their child to be well-behaved and succeed at school.

Yet problems like hyperactivity and dyslexia are on the increase and a growing number of kids find it hard to concentrate in class.

Now scientists think just a small portion of omega-3 rich oily fish once or twice a week, or the same amount of fish oils as a daily supplement, could improve a child's attention span and academic ability.

WHAT ARE THEY?

Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fats only found in significant amounts in oily fish and offal. They make up a quarter of the grey matter of the brain and are vital to brain and eye development in the womb and early life.

This week TV viewers saw how James and Ruben - two three-year-olds being followed by the Child Of Our Time series presented by Lord Robert Winston - became happier and more co-operative after taking a supplement containing omega-3.

Both children had been starting to exhibit learning disorders, but afterwards James started sharing toys and befriending other children at his nursery while Ruben's speech problems were much improved.

Dr Madeleine Portwood, a special educational psychologist, says: "The changes that occur when children with behavioural problems start taking fish oil-rich supplements can be dramatic."

FURTHER EVIDENCE

A study in Durham investigated the effect of Eye Q - a supplement containing fish oils and evening primrose oil - on children aged seven to 11. Children were selected because they were not fulfilling their potential, although their ability was normal. They were subjected to regular tests measuring co-ordination, concentration and academic ability. The results have yet to be published, but are expected to show a significant improvement in school performance in children given supplements.

Experts believe high levels of an omega-3 fat called DHA make cell membranes more flexible, which improves the efficiency with which signals pass from one brain cell to another. Another omega-3 fat called EPA improves blood flow which may also boost brain function.

Dietitian and omega-3 expert Dr Carrie Ruxton says: "If children don't get enough DHA in the womb and in their early diet (thorough breast-feeding), another type of fat called omega-6 will be substituted into the brain which can mean it doesn't function as well.

"Our early ancestors consumed approximately equal amounts of omega-3 to omega-6 due to a diet high in fish and wild animals. Today modern diets have on average about seven to 15 times more omega-6 than omega-3. …