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Low Blood DHA Levels Linked to Decreased Reading Ability and Memory Performance in Children

COLUMBIA, Md., July 10, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Higher blood levels of long-chain omega-3s, and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in particular, were associated with better reading and working memory performance, according to a new observational study conducted at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Lead researchers indicated that an increased dietary intake of omega-3s may be beneficial for healthy children aged 7 to 9 years who are underperforming in school.

The paper titled, "Low blood long chain omega-3 fatty acids in UK children are associated with poor cognitive performance and behavior: A large cross-sectional analysis from the DOLAB study," was recently published in the peer-reviewed PLOS ONE journal. The observational analysis was an independent study initiated at the University of Oxford and funded by a grant from DSM Nutritional Products.

Cross-sectional observational study

Researchers set out to explore the association between blood omega-3 levels and children's reading, working memory and behavior. The study's population included 493 healthy children aged 7 to 9 years recruited from mainstream state schools in Oxfordshire, U.K. underperforming in literacy skills, but with other abilities within the normal range.

Findings at a glance:

  • Blood samples, taken through the first-ever finger stick test administered to children in the U.K., revealed that the sample population had on average a blood fatty acid level of 1.90 percent of DHA and 0.55 percent of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) with a total of 2.46 percent combined DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids – this is below a minimum of 4 percent recommended by leading scientists to maintain cardiovascular health in adults, the researchers reported;
  • Lower DHA concentrations were associated with poorer reading ability (p=<.042) and working memory performance (p=<.001);
  • Lower DHA was associated with higher levels of parent-rated oppositional behavior (p=<.0001) and emotional lability (p=<.0001);
  • Researchers looked at the diet of each child and found that 88.2 percent of children ate fish less than twice a week and 9 percent did not eat fish at all, as reported by their parents.

Reading was accessed using the Word Reading Achievement sub-test of the British Ability Scales (BAS II). The Recall of Digits Forward and Recall of Digits Backward subtests from BAS II were utilized as measures for working memory. To measure behavior, ADHD-type symptoms were evaluated by both parents and teachers using the Conners' Rating Scales (CPRS-L and CTRS-L).

DOLAB intervention trial

The observational study was carried out as part of the DHA Oxford Learning and Behavior (DOLAB) randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial, which found increased dietary intake of algal DHA in school-aged children with low reading levels demonstrated significant improvements in reading performance and behavior. Following the positive results found in the subgroup populations, a follow-on study is currently underway at the University of Oxford to explore a larger sample size of children who are underperforming (<20th percentile) in reading performance.

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.

For children who do not eat fish at least two times a week, parents can find supplements and fortified foods and beverage made with a non-fish source of DHA. life'sDHA™, the source of DHA used in the DOLAB intervention, is a vegetarian and sustainable source of DHA. It can be found in hundreds of supplements and fortified foods and beverages. Additional information about life'sDHA is available at

DSM – Bright Science. Brighter Living.™

Royal DSM is a global science-based company active in health, nutrition and materials. By connecting its unique competences in Life Sciences and Materials Sciences DSM is driving economic prosperity, environmental progress and social advances to create sustainable value for all stakeholders. DSM delivers innovative solutions that nourish, protect and improve performance in global markets such as food and dietary supplements, personal care, feed, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, automotive, paints, electrical and electronics, life protection, alternative energy and bio-based materials. DSM's 23,500 employees deliver annual net sales of around €9 billion. The company is listed on NYSE Euronext. More information can be found at

For more information:
DSM Nutritional Products
Andrea Martin
tel. + 1 240.512.2639

Forward-looking statements

This press release may contain forward-looking statements with respect to DSM's future (financial) performance and position. Such statements are based on current expectations, estimates and projections of DSM and information currently available to the company. DSM cautions readers that such statements involve certain risks and uncertainties that are difficult to predict and therefore it should be understood that many factors can cause actual performance and position to differ materially from these statements. DSM has no obligation to update the statements contained in this press release, unless required by law. The English language version of the press release is leading.

SOURCE DSM Nutritional Products
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