British school children with learning difficulties are taking part in a major trial to see if plant and fish extracts can help raise their learning and concentration levels.
A total of 120 children aged six to 11 from 13 schools in the north east of the country are taking part in the study carried out by a research team led by Dr Madelaine Portwood, a senior educational psychologist at Durham County Council's Education Authority.
The study is designed to see if simple dietary supplements can be effective in treating disorders such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, attention deficiency hyperactivity (ADHA) disorder and autistic spectrum disorder.
Scientists believe that deficiencies in fatty acids can cause serious learning difficulties caused more by the metabolism than any neurological condition. Significant changes in modern dietary patterns have contributed directly to the rapid rise in neuro-developmental disorders over recent decades.
Dr Portwood said: "In the last 20 years there have been massive increases in the numbers of children diagnosed with these disorders - as many as four or five times more. This is certainly not down to better recognition of these conditions. The most significant factor that has changed for children in the last 20 years is their diet."
The children taking part in the study will be given the dietary supplements omega-3 and omega-6, found in fish and plants respectively, at certain times during a six- month period. These pupils will be monitored for their individual performance patterns and against an additional test sample of 120 more children.
Dr Portwood said she expected to see a significant improvement in learning abilities following the supplementation.
Scientists working on the project are also testing a new breath test which could identify fatty acid deficiencies without the need for blood tests. The machine would allow parents, teachers and health professionals concerned about a child's learning abilities to conduct an easy and non-invasive test for disorders.
The study is being funded by the Dyslexia Research Trust in Oxford and the supplements are being provided by Equazen Nutraceuticals.