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Fish oil increases wellbeing in boys

Experts on omega-3 fatty acids said yesterday there was an urgent need for properly conducted scientific research on the impact of diet on the brain, amid claims that fish oils have dramatically improved the behaviour of boys with some of the UK’s most severe emotional and social problems.

The Cotswold community school in Wiltshire, a residential school for boys who cannot be handled in mainstream care homes and schools, has treated its children with fish oil supplements for 20 weeks and measured changes in their behaviour. A nutritionist, Jackie Stordy, analysed records of the boys’ behaviour, using school logs of the number of times the children had to be restrained.

The children’s scores for hyperactivity, impulsiveness and oppositional behaviour were also compared before and after.

After 20 weeks the number of times staff had to restrain the boys had dropped by 46%. The length of time they had to be restrained dropped by 42% and their scores for impulsiveness and hyperactivity improved by 20%, said Dr Stordy.

For nearly all the boys there was a small but significant improvement, except two who did not take the fish oil and showed no improvement. Three showed dramatic improvements. “Their scores moved into the normal range for the population, which is remarkable,” Dr Stordy said.

The claims being made for fish oil’s effect on children’s learning and behaviour have become controversial, with experts criticising supplement manufacturers for overstating the evidence from unscientific research.

But it was the Cotswold community school that approached manufacturers Efamol for supplies of its fish oil-based essential fatty acid supplement Efalex. Dr Stordy said the work made no claim to be a proper trial – only 19 boys were involved. There was no placebo.

Story written by Felicity Lawrence for Guardian Unlimited.

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