DCD is a condition affecting around five percent of school-aged children and is linked to behavioral and learning difficulties, problems with motor function and psychosocial issues that may continue into adulthood.
According to study authors Alexandra Richardson and Paul Montgomery, both of Oxford University, there is currently no effective, evidence-based treatment for the condition.
Mainstream therapies consist of behavioral training and physiotherapy or occupational therapy, but in the UK not all children affected by the disorder have access to them.
"Although these interventions appear to help many such children, few of them have been evaluated in controlled trials to provide clear evidence of their efficacy," Richardson told NutraIngredients.com.
Recognition of this shortfall led her and Montgomery to investigate fatty acid supplementation as a potential therapy, in the light of evidence linking a lack of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the diet to certain neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders.
They carried out a 6-month controlled trial of amongst 117 children with DCD aged between 5 and 12 years. The children were randomly assigned to one of two groups, one receiving omega-3 and omega-6 fatty dietary supplementation and the other receiving an inactive placebo.
After the first three months, the placebo group switched over to the active supplements for the remainder of the study period.
The active supplements consisted of 80 percent fish oil and 20 percent evening primrose oil. A daily dose of six capsules (two administered three times a day) delivered 558mg of eicosapentaeoic acid (EPA), 174mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and 60mg of y-linolenic acid.
The high-EPA marine oil was chosen as evidence to date suggests that EPA rather than DHA is the omega-3 fatty acid most likely to help in these kinds of neurodevelopmental and psychiatric conditions, said Richardson.
Age-standardised measures were used to assess the affects of supplementation on symptoms of the condition: Movement ABC for motor skills; Conners' Teacher Rating Scales for behavior; and reading and spelling achievement tests.
The researchers noted that the active treatment group showed "significant improvements" in behavior, reading and spelling within the first three months, which were paralleled by the placebo group once they had crossed over to the fatty acid supplements.
Participants in the original active treatment group were seen to maintain or improve their progress throughout the remainder of the trial.
Neither group showed any detectible improvement in motor skills.
"Additional work is needed to investigate whether our inability to detect any improvement in motor skills reflects the measures used and to assess the durability of treatment effects on behavior and academic progress," wrote the researchers.
Larger studies are planned, said Richardson, some of which will take place in mainstream schools since her work to date suggests that many children who have not been formally diagnosed with DCD, dyslexia or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) could benefit from this approach.
Funding is yet to be secured for these studies though and, as Richardson considers it important that research should be independent of commercial influence, funding for her work to date has been through charitable sources.
Further information on the role of nutrition in behavioral and learning difficulties is available from Food And Behaviour Research.