Mass Medication With Omega 3 Would Wipe Out Global Fish StocksThe more it is tested, the more compelling the hypothesis becomes. Dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia and other neurological problems seem to be associated with a deficiency of Omega 3 fatty acids, especially in the womb. The evidence of a link with depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and dementia is less clear, but still suggestive. None of these conditions is caused exclusively by a lack of these chemicals, or can be entirely remedied by their application, but it's becoming pretty obvious that some of our most persistent modern diseases are, at least in part, diseases of deficiency.Last year, for example, researchers at Oxford published a study of 117 children suffering from dyspraxia. Dyspraxia causes learning difficulties, disruptive behavior, and social problems. It affects about 5% of children. Some of the children were given supplements of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, others were given placebos. The results were extraordinary: in three months the reading age of the experimental group rose by an average of 9.5 months, while the reading age of those given placebos rose by 3.3. Other studies have shown major improvements in attention, behavior, and IQ.
This shouldn't surprise us. During the Paleolithic era, humans ate roughly the same amount of Omega 3 fatty acids as Omega 6s. Today we eat 17 times as much Omega 6 as Omega 3. Omega 6s are found in vegetable oils, while most of the Omega 3s we eat come from fish. John Stein, a professor of physiology at Oxford who specializes in dyslexia, believes that fish oils permitted humans to make their great cognitive leap forwards. The concentration of Omega 3s in the brain, he says, could provide more evidence that human beings were, for a while, semi-aquatic.
Stein believes that when the cells that are partly responsible for visual perception - the magnocellular neurones - are deficient in Omega 3s, they don't form as many connections with other cells, and don't pass on information as efficiently. Their impaired development explains, for example, why many dyslexic children find that letters appear to jump around on the page.
So at first sight the government's investigation into the idea of giving fish oil capsules to schoolchildren seems sensible. The food standards agency is conducting a review of the effects of Omega 3s on behavior and performance in school. Alan Johnson, the secretary of state for education, is taking an interest. Given the accumulating weight of evidence, it would be surprising if he does not decide to go ahead. Already companies such as St Ivel and Marks & Spencer are selling foods laced with Omega 3s.
There is only one problem: there are not enough fish...
2. Independent, title story, June 21 2006:
Children on the edge:
One in ten youngsters suffers mental problems as behavioural disorders double in 30 years.