Study Shows Algal DHA Supplement Improves Reading Performance, Behavior

A University of Oxford study shows that an algal DHA dietary supplement helps to improve children's reading performance and behavior (ADHD-type symptoms).

young girl readingIncreased dietary intake of algal DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in school-aged children with low reading levels demonstrated significant improvements in reading performance and behavior, according to a clinical study conducted at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Lead researchers of the study indicated that DHA supplementation appears to be an effective way to improve reading in healthy but underperforming children from mainstream schools.

“Poor reading skills as a child impact all learning and can lead to a host of problems in adulthood,” said lead investigator Alex Richardson, Ph.D., senior research fellow at the University of Oxford and director of Food and Behavior (FAB) Research. “The DHA Oxford Learning and Behavior (DOLAB) trial showed that taking daily algal DHA supplements improved reading performance for the worst readers, and helped these children catch up with their peer group.”

The DOLAB Trial

The DOLAB Trial was a parallel group, fixed-dose, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial designed to assess whether an increased dietary intake of DHA omega-3 had benefits on reading performance, working memory, and behavior in healthy school-aged children. The study included 362 healthy children aged 7-9 years from mainstream state schools in Oxfordshire, U.K. who were underperforming in literacy but had other abilities within the normal range. The study population was not taking medications for ADHD.

Although no significant treatment effect was observed in the overall population of the lower 33rd percentile, the study did find significant improvement in reading performance among the subgroups of children who were underperforming in literacy skills, based on the British Ability Scales. Improvement in reading in these poorer readers was 20 percent and nearly 50 percent greater, respectively, than would normally be expected, helping these children to catch up with their peer group.

In the subgroup of 224 children with initial reading in the lowest 20th percentile, algal DHA led to an additional 0.8 months reading age gain compared with the placebo. In the subgroup of 105 children initially reading in the lowest 10th percentile, the additional reading age gain from algal DHA treatment verses placebo was 1.9 months. In general, children’s reading ages typically increase by four months over a 16-week period.

In addition to the promising results found in the subgroups, an overall effect was found versus placebo in improved parent-reported behavior (ADHD-type symptoms). Analysis showed significant effects of algal DHA over placebo on eight of the 14 scales assessing a range of ADHD-type symptoms. For example, children in the control group had fewer oppositional symptoms and less hyperactivity, as reported by their parents.

Following the positive results found, a follow-up study is currently underway at the University of Oxford to explore a larger sample size of children who are underperforming in reading performance.

U.S. children struggle with reading

The study results come at a time when many school-aged children lack sufficient reading skills. According to the most recent report card by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, students in the United States continue to struggle with reading, the most fundamental educational skill. More than a third of all fourth-grade public school students cannot read at even the most basic level and another third only reach the level of proficient.

The importance of DHA throughout life

DHA is a polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid found throughout the body. It is a major structural fat in the brain, accounting for up to 97 percent of the omega-3 fats in the brain. Numerous studies confirm that everyone, from infants to adults, benefits from an adequate supply of DHA. Throughout every stage of life, DHA is proven to be important for brain health.

life’sDHA™, the source of DHA used in the trial, is a vegetarian and sustainable source of DHA. It can be found in hundreds of supplements and fortified foods and beverages.

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