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Monday, 13 May, 2002, 20:18 GMT 21:18 UK
Food supplements 'help problem children'
Vitamin capsules
The children take fish oil, plant extract and vitamin A
Food supplements can improve the educational abilities of children with learning difficulties, a study has shown.

A major trial into the benefits fish and plant extracts have on concentration and learning levels has produced results described as "very encouraging".

The study - carried out at 13 schools in County Durham - showed one child's reading skills improved by the equivalent of four years after three months of taking the supplements.

Researcher Dr Madelaine Portwood, an educational psychologist at Durham County Council, said it was a "landmark" study.

The children's social skills seem to be improving because they are more confident

Dr Madelaine Portwood

Dr Portwood's research is based on the belief that deficiencies in fatty acids can cause serious learning difficulties.

Analysis at the halfway stage has shown a number of advances among some children - believed to be taking the supplements - whilst others, expected to be taking the placebo, have not shown any real improvement.

Dr Portwood said: "This really is a major landmark study which could make a real difference.

"The signs are very encouraging but obviously the full results will not be available until September."

A total of 120 youngsters, aged six to 11, are are taking part in the study.

Findings show the supplements bring remarkable benefits for those with disorders such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, autistic spectrum disorder and attention deficiency hyper-activity (ADHA) disorder.

Writing skills

One child's reading skills improved by the equivalent of four years in three months.

In other cases, learning ability was boosted by two years in the same 12-week period.

Andrew Westerman, headteacher at Timothy Hackworth Primary School in Shildon, told BBC Radio Newcastle he had noticed big differences.

"At one point children would have had difficulty keeping their handwriting properly spaced... or keeping their writing on the line, whereas now we are finding that children are able to maintain a much more flowing hand.

"If you can imagine that children were almost having to fight to get their handwriting down, then they are using less energy to do that.

"They are more able to concentrate on the rest of the lesson and are more involved in the creative process."

Increased motivation

The project has also shown significant lifestyle improvements for children who have benefited from greater confidence.

Dr Portwood said: "The children's social skills seem to be improving because they are more confident.

"They are becoming more socially interactive and perhaps this increases the motivation to learn."

Dr Portwood said she had also noticed a marked improvement in her own 10-year-old son since he started taking the hi-EPA omega 3 fish oil capsules.

"I wouldn't give them to him if I did not feel they did him any benefit," she said.

The BBC's James Westhead
"The children agree they feel more energetic and interested in school"
See also:

25 Feb 02 | Education
Diet test for special needs pupils
13 Feb 02 | Health
Diet can ease problem behaviours
31 May 01 | Health
Fatty fish 'cut cancer risk'
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