Durham Research
Using Fatty Acids for Learning Conditions


Durham Local Educational Authority welcomes you to this site, which has been created to give answers to the many queries we have from parents and interested professionals about the trial we have completed examining the effects of fatty-acid supplementation on learning.

It has been a challenging and exciting venture, with results that we believe will give some new ideas on how we can support pupils with a range of specific learning difficulties including dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD.

We hope that you can find all the information you require, but welcome further enquiries.

Background to the Trial

As a Local Education Authority, we were concerned that a significant number of pupils underachieved because they have particular problems concentrating and remaining on task. For many, this can lead to difficulties with reading, spelling and other aspects of the curriculum. Pupils can feel isolated within their peer-group and suffer loss of self-esteem.

Some students have specific learning difficulties: dyslexia/ dyspraxia and although traditional approaches to support these pupils was effective in many cases, some made little progress.

With current research revealing that fatty acid deficiencies may be a factor connecting these learning difficulties, it was possible that for some pupils an improved diet would lead to improvements elsewhere: however overturning the high-carbohydrate heavily- processed diets that children typically consume was going to be a momentous task.

Lead investigator of the trial in Durham, Dr Madeleine Portwood, explains:

"Educationalists in Durham are committed to supporting pupils. At the Durham Primary Headteachers conference 2001, I presented details of research linking nutritional deficiencies and learning difficulties. The possibility of running a large-scale trial in the County to consider the effects of dietary supplementation with under-achieving pupils in mainstream schools, proved very exciting"
Dr Madeleine Portwood

But the trial would have to be credible, and it was essential to find collaborators experienced in such research.

The Education Authority was delighted that the Dyslexia Research Trust – an Oxford-based charity that has done much research into the causes of learning conditions, and Dr Alex Richardson, senior fellow of Mansfield College at Oxford University, whose specialty is on how fatty acids can help with learning conditions were keen to support this study.

It was decided that the most robust means of determining the effectiveness of the fatty-acid supplement was to embark on a double-blind, randomised, one-way crossover placebo-controlled trial.

"As Director of Education, I want to make a difference tochildren in schools in County Durham. The Education Department has given its full support to the collaborative project, which could have far-reaching benefits for children and their families."
Keith Mitchell, Director of Education
  "The Local Education Authority is proud of its record in creating the best communities for children's learning. We strive to provide an education system in which children can make the best of their opportunities. I believe this research project is another massive step forward in improving the lives of all the children in our schools."
Cllr. Neil Foster, Cabinet Member for Developing Lifelong Learning - Education Issues.

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The Durham LEA would like to thank all those involved, especially the pupils and parents for their participation and assistance in these trials.

© The Durham Local Education Authority. All rights reserved. Jan. 2004