Does Fish Oil Improve Reading Skills in Children?

by Chris Centeno, MD /

kids reading

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.

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?

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3 thoughts on “Does Fish Oil Improve Reading Skills in Children?

  1. Dennis Holz

    My secretary started giving her son and daughter fish oil when they were young: 2nd or 3rd grade, due to acting out and ADD. Both changed, within weeks. As they grew, she told me, “I just keep them on their fish oil.” Both are now “A” students, the old one her son, is doing very well at the University. Daughter is all “A’s” one B in high school. She credits it all to fish oil.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Dennis,
      Sounds like a great real life case study!

  2. Sam

    Wonderful blog! Thanks for sharing. I take high quality EPA/DHA and it helps me in that it alleviates my joint stiffness / pain and it even provides better muscle and circulatory function. Now I learned from this blog that DHA specifically helps with brain function and improves biological cognitive ability. Meanwhile, the term ADHD that was coined by American Psychiatric Association and is often used to label kids with, hence justifying prescription drugs for kids, needs special attention. In 1987, American Psychiatric Association members simply “voted” on a list of behavioural symptoms, called this new “disorder” ADHD and inserted the symptoms into the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). It created a false international epidemic. Our children’s lives are being placed at risk by an alliance which works like this: The American Psychiatric Association invents disorders and adds them into the DSM. Drug companies then make drugs to match the new disorder. The DSM IV entry for ADHD states “There are no laboratory tests, neurological assessments or attentional assessments that have been established as diagnostic in the clinical assessment of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder”. A 2007 Oregon Health and Science University Evidence-Based Practice Centre review of 2,287 studies – virtually every study ever conducted on ADHD drugs − determined that no trials had shown the effectiveness of stimulants and that there was a lack of evidence that they could affect “academic performance, risky behaviours, social achievements, etc”. A 2014 Australian study reported that there has been a 72.9% increase in ADHD drug prescribing between 2000 and 2011. The study revealed a staggering 388,333 prescriptions were written for methylphenidate (Concerta, Ritalin and other brands) in 2012 for children aged 3 to 14, with methylphenidate the most dispensed psychotropic to Australian children aged 3 to 14. See this link for more info: http://cchr.org.au/component/content/article/35-front-page-news/323-psychiatric-labelling-and-drugging-of-australian-children-the-facts .
    I hope people start learning form this Regenexx blog and make an informed decision to improve their cognitive ability with natural supplements and without adverse side effects of psychiatric drugs. America has 5% of earth’s population but uses 66% of psycho drugs. We should rethink and start making informed decisions and these blogs helps – thanks.

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

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.
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