Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids Improve Reading Skills in Healthy Children


Previous research has shown positive effects of essential fatty acids (omega-3/6) in children with attention and reading difficulties. New research shows that these fats could improve reading ability in mainstream schoolchildren.

Foods high in omega-3 include fish, vegetable oils, nuts, flax seeds, and leafy vegetables. Most omega-6 fatty acids in the diet are obtained from vegetable oils. The modern diet is particularly low in omega-3 fatty acids which are important for signal transmission between nerve cells and the regulation of signaling systems in the brain.

The study group included 154 schoolchildren from western Sweden who were in grade 3 (between 9 and 10 years of age). The researchers then measured their reading skills using a computer-based test, called the Logos test. It measured reading speed, ability to read nonsense words, and vocabulary.

The children were randomly assigned supplements with omega-3/omega-6 or a placebo of palm oil which they took for 3 months (3 capsules per day). The study was double-blinded so neither the researchers nor parents knew which treatment the children were taking. After 3 months all the children received the real omega-3/6 capsules for the remainder of the research study.

Researchers saw a significant improvement in reading skills after the first 3 months in children taking the omega-3/6 acid compared to the placebo. While no children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD were included in the study, those children with mild attention problems achieved greater improvements in certain tests, such as faster reading, after taking the real supplements.

Johnson M, Fransson G, Östlund S, Areskoug B, Gillberg C. Omega 3/6 fatty acids for reading in children: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in 9-year-old mainstream schoolchildren in Sweden. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2017;58(1):83-93.