Does Fish Oil Improve Reading Skills in Children?

I have a son who had difficulty reading due to dyslexia, a brilliant thinker who saw letters and words like we would see upside down Chinese characters. During that harrowing ordeal, which was eventually solved by the wonderful Lindamood-Bell program, I learned the sobering statistic that literacy rates in elementary school predict the prison census a decade down the road. Which makes me wonder how many troubled kids are that way because they also aren’t born with the ability to read? So when a new study reports that fish oil supplements can help 9 year old kids read better, I pay attention. Before I delve into the study, let me explain omega-3s.

What Are Omega-3s?

Omega-3s are fatty acids that are found in fish oil and many plant sources (e.g., flaxseed and hemp). Your body cannot produce omega-3s, so it’s important to get them from other sources. You may be familiar with omega-3s from the stories of the Inuit (Eskimo) people, who eat a lot of fish (topped with more fish oil, like we might use salt and pepper) and don’t suffer from many of the chronic diseases that are so prevalent in most other parts of the world. Typically, animal-sourced omega-3s, such as fish oil, are broken down into two components: DHA and EPA. DHA is believed to support brain function while EPA is believed to support joint function.

Take a look back at many of the benefits of high-quality fish oil I’ve shared in the past:

To experience the optimal benefits from omega-3s, it’s important that you get a very high-quality fish oil. The buy-one-get-one-free bottles of fish oil you find on your local grocery-chain shelf probably aren’t going to cut it because the studies have shown they simply don’t have the same health benefits as the good stuff. When it comes to fish oils and other supplements, it seems you really do get what you pay for. If you’re not taking enough high-quality fish oil, you aren’t reaping the benefits of its omega-3s, so click on this link to find out how much you should be taking. Hint: It’s a lot more than what you probably think.

Now, let’s look at the study and the effects of omega-3 in fish oil on children and literacy.

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Can Fish Oil Help Kids Read Better?

The new study out of Sweden was a good-sized randomized controlled trial (RCT) that investigated the effects of omega-3 on reading ability in 154 schoolchildren. RCTs are higher-level studies in which subjects are randomly placed into groups, usually an experimental group that receives the treatment (in this case the fish-oil capsule) and a control group that receives a placebo. The subjects don’t know which group they have been placed into, and this minimizes bias in the study and leads to more-solid results.

In this RCT, 78 children received the fish-oil capsule while 76 received the placebo. Not only did the results show that omega-3 in the fish-oil capsules improved reading ability, by the three-month point, it also showed that children with attention problems, such as ADHD, experienced benefits (e.g., reading speed, visual analysis time, etc.). So quite simply, yes, based on this study, fish oil can help kids read better!

The upshot? Of all the things we tried with our son, we never thought to try fish oil! On a bigger scale, if literacy rates can be improved in elementary-aged children simply by adding a fish-oil supplement to their diet, what a game changer that would be. Could it really be that simple?

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.

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