July 17, 2005


Fish oil diet feeds brains of toddlers
(Amelia Hill, The Observer, July 17th, 2005)

The behaviour of pre-school children improves dramatically when given a daily dose of fish oils, according to the first study made into dietary supplements for young people under the age of three.

After just six weeks of daily doses of Omega-3, parents reported a transformation in the behaviour and learning abilities of children as young as 20 months old.[...]

The Observer has seen interim results for the Durham-based study of 60 children aged between 20 months and three years, which was launched three months ago and is due to run for a year.

The results reveal dramatic improvements in the performance of underachieving toddlers, many of whom had been disruptive and unable to concentrate.

Children were assessed for their motor skills, IQ, reading, spelling and behaviour, and the study identified a huge reduction in symptoms of the sort associated with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.

The biggest improvements, however, were observed in the children's concentration and behaviour. 'The performance of almost 60 per cent of the children involved has improved dramatically,' said Dr Madeleine Portwood, educational psychologist for Durham local education authority and lead investigator at the Durham Sure Start trial. 'We saw children whose learning skills went from being six months below their chronological age to absolutely normal in just three months.

'Some two-year-olds went from having a vocabulary of 25 single words to being able to use whole sentences, while others were able to sit down and concentrate for the first time in their lives.' [...]

'A spin-off of the children's improvement was a vastly improved bonding between parent and child which led to a significant increase in their learning,' said Portwood.

Wow. This is wonderful. No more need to mess about with genetic testing in the womb or waste all your savings on useless self-help books. And the greatest thing of all is that the disgusting stuff only works on kids under three.

Posted by Peter Burnet at July 17, 2005 6:57 AM

"...the study identified a huge reduction in symptoms of the sort associated with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder."

I always knew ADD and ADHD was a load of hooey.

Posted by: Bartman at July 17, 2005 7:19 AM

Spare the cod, spoil the child?

Posted by: Barry Meislin at July 17, 2005 8:31 AM

Hey, I'd improve my concentration too if it meant I wouldn't have to eat fish oils every day.

Posted by: Brandon at July 17, 2005 9:54 AM

There's just something fishy about the whole thing, y'know?

Posted by: Mike Morley at July 17, 2005 11:27 AM

If OJ had posted this he would've titled it "What Bertie Wooster knew"

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at July 17, 2005 12:48 PM

Actually, not to sound too loony here, but I think there really is something to the omega-3 fish oil thing. It definitely has some kind of affect on brain mechanisms.

After seeing anecdotal reports and legitimate research that it has been used to stave off withdrawals for everything from heroin addicts to hardcore cocaine users, I successfully used the stuff to quit smoking. Honest to God, it stopped the cravings.

And I don't think it was just a placebo thing. Trust me -- I'd tried everything else in the book at that point to kick the cigs.

Posted by: SP at July 17, 2005 1:03 PM

It's the placebo thing, SP. Except it's a placebo for the parents and teachers, not the kids.

Posted by: joe shropshire at July 17, 2005 1:07 PM

No wonder my grandmother insisted I eat fish, in some form, at least once a day when I was a kid.

Posted by: bart at July 17, 2005 3:43 PM

WARNING: side effects may include ... (becoming like Bart)...

Posted by: Dave W. at July 17, 2005 4:34 PM

It's not a placebo effect.

Infants BUILD THEIR BRAINS from Omega-3 fatty acids, which are abundantly found in fish.

Adult humans need Omega-3, -6, and -9 fats.

However, the modern diet, heavy on processed foods, and light on unprocessed vegetables, provides primarily Omega-6 fats.

For some people, adding Omega-3 supplements to their diet, or simply eating more oily fish, really does beneficially alter body chemistry.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 17, 2005 4:37 PM

Or, one could eat ORGANIC, or FREE-RANGE beef or buffalo.

GRASS-FED beef and buffalo is high in Omega-3s.

NOT regular feed-lot beef, but the expensive stuff, raised in a nineteenth-century way.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 17, 2005 4:39 PM


Very interesting. Any thoughts on why Mediterranean, Japanese and Nordic kids (not to mention South Sea Islanders, etc.) don't blow the old brain-'o-meter skywards.

Posted by: Peter B at July 17, 2005 5:02 PM

Japanese kids do. Scandinavians outperform others on standardized tests, heavily Scandinavian and Protestant German parts of the US have the highest median SAT scores, i.e. Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota.

Ashkenazi Jews and East Asians, both of whose diets are heavy in fishes, certainly do.

As for people in the South Seas and the Mediterranean, there is such a thing as 'Polynesian paralysis' due to the climate. And, Greek, Maronite and Armenian kids are also high flyers. As for the others, perhaps the culture holds them back.

Posted by: bart at July 17, 2005 5:10 PM

Whoa! Read the article. We're not talking about above-mean scores on standardized tests. We talking about turning mumbling anti-social droolers into polite little Shakespeares and Einsteins that suddenly bond like Epoxy. (Cue orchestra)

We know fish and fish oil are good for you. Like carrots and yoghurt and whole grain cereals and Twinkies(self-esteem). We just didn't know it was the elixir of the gods.

Do those German-Americans from North Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa eat a lot of fish? Germans from Germany don't eat much fish, Bart.

Posted by: Peter B at July 17, 2005 5:35 PM

If you come from Hamburg, Bremen, Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, Berlin et al, you certainly do. Just think of all the wonderful things they do with herring. Norwegians even in Minnesota eat a particularly nasty codfish and lye concoction known as 'lutefisk' which is scarier than haggis.

People along the Great Lakes eat lots of lakefish. Whitefish and trout are particular favorites.

I have my doubts as to whether a diet high in fish oil is really that good for the brain, but I do know that eating fish high in iodine avoids certain kinds of mental retardation, hence the impetus behind 'iodized' salt.

But at least among Ashkenazim, there is the folk notion that fish is 'brain food.'

Posted by: bart at July 17, 2005 5:51 PM

You are stretching it, Bart. ("People along the Great Lakes eat lots of lakefish". Sure, Bart, Chicagoans and Detroiters and Windsorites just wolf down the whitefish and then head off to pick up their Nobel prizes. C'mon, if they eat a lot of anything, it's pizza!)

But let's see you handle this one:



Posted by: Peter B at July 17, 2005 6:53 PM

Just ry to get your kids to do this. There will be an exponaential rise in cases of child abuse if this catches on.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at July 17, 2005 7:16 PM

Peter B:

Re the "brain-o'-meter", I would guess that it's a matter of potential.
Kids that eat a lot of Omega-3s, especially breast-fed kids, quickly get as smart as they're going to, but don't develop 30 lb. brains. (14 kg. to you).

Similarly, Americans eat a lot of protein, and so are among the world's tallest and most robust peoples, but they don't continue to grow into superhumanly muscled giants. (Shucks).

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 17, 2005 7:59 PM


Inbreeding trumps genetics every time.

Posted by: bart at July 18, 2005 4:54 AM


Inbreeding trumps environment every time.

Posted by: bart at July 18, 2005 4:54 AM


Inbreeding trumps environment every time.

Posted by: bart at July 18, 2005 4:54 AM


So what you guys are saying in the end is that fish is good for you? Mirabile dictu!

Posted by: Peter B at July 18, 2005 7:28 AM

And ADD/ADHD doesn't exist as a genetic trait. It's a diet thing.

Posted by: Bartman at July 18, 2005 8:21 AM

It's the deficiency of omega 3, or the higher need for it, that's the genetic trait.

Posted by: at July 31, 2005 3:19 AM