Staying Healthy Newsletter - <em>In the news:</em> Omega-3 + GLA May Support Kids’ Reading Ability; Folic Acid & Stroke Risk
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In the news: Omega-3 + GLA May Support Kids’ Reading Ability; Folic Acid & Stroke Risk

Fatty Acids May Help Improve Reading Skills

The role of polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega 3s for learning and behavior in children is a growing area of research. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential brain components, and some evidence suggests that they may influence neurotransmitters in the brain.

Several trials have detected positive effects of combined supplemental omega-3 and GLA fatty acids in children with attention difficulties (mostly attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder, ADHD), or with low reading performance.

Recently, a team of neuroscientists from the University of Goteborg in Sweden examined whether this combination of fatty acids might improve reading ability in mainstream schoolchildren as well.

In the study (1), children aged 9-10 years were randomly assigned to receive omega fatty acid capsules twice daily (total daily dose of 558 mg EPA, 174 mg DHA, and 60 mg GLA) or identical placebo for 3 months.

This was followed by an additional 3-month period when all participants took the fatty acid supplement. The children were evaluated for their reading abilities by a battery of tests (Logos).

Children who received fatty acids during the double-blind phase of the study showed significantly greater improvement than placebo takers on the Logos tests ‘phonologic decoding time’ and ‘visual analysis time’. In other words, these children were faster at decoding words and faster at visual perception – both considered to be essential functions in reading ability.

During the three to six month study period, reading comprehension also improved in the fatty acid group vs. those taking placebo during the first phase.

Among children taking the fatty acids, those who had attention problems, in particular, showed improvements (those with higher ADHD symptoms, but not nearly high enough to be diagnosed with the disorder).
The authors call for further study in both mainstream schoolchildren and those with neurodevelopmental problems to confirm their promising findings.

Folic Acid Lowers the Risk for Stroke

About 795,000 Americans have strokes each year, so reducing the risk for this debilitating condition is a public health priority. Many studies have investigated whether lowering blood levels of the artery-damaging compound homocysteine with supplemental folic acid can help prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD) and ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke. However, the results of these studies haven’t been consistent.

To learn more, Harvard researchers evaluated 30 randomized trials involving over 82,000 participants to see whether folic acid supplementation is effective in lowering CVD risk (2).

The good news is that folic acid significantly lowered the chances of stroke by 10%. That may seem like a small reduction, but every little bit helps when it comes to stroke prevention. From a public health point of view, a 10% reduction is still very impressive. People who had lower folic acid levels to begin with reaped the most benefit from supplementation. For CVD overall, the risk was slightly lower with folic acid, and improvements were better for those who had no pre-existing CVD or greater reductions in homocysteine.

However for stroke risk, there did not seem to be any difference between the smallest and the largest reductions in homocysteine levels – reducing levels a little or a lot led to similar results. So it’s very possible that homocysteine isn’t the main culprit here, and that folic acid may be protecting against stroke in some other way than simply lowering homocysteine.

References

  1. Johnson M, et al. 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 Psych. Epub ahead of print Aug 22, 2016.
  2. Li Y, et al. Folic acid supplementation and the risk of cardiovascular diseases: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Am Heart Assoc. Epub ahead of print Aug 15, 2016.
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