Durham Research
Using Fatty Acids for Learning Conditions


Running the Trial

Durham Research in Primary Schools -- The Durham Trial

This trial is the largest and most extensive study to look at fatty acids and learning conditions. During the course of 2002, more than 100 children at 12 schools in the county were daily given either active or placebo capsules in a double-blind, randomised format. The main aim of the trial was to look at Dyspraxia and Motor skills, but there were also full assessments for Dyslexia and ADHD. More than 12,000 assessments were undertaken in the course of the year, and reports from parents, teachers and children involved in the study have been encouraging. A complete statistical overview of the study has yet to be released, as analysis of the data is ongoing.

'The response has been very encouraging. In very broad terms. we saw that up to 40 per cent of children on the trial showed dramatic improvements. In some individual cases, we saw reading age gains of between 18 months and four years, and attention gains of as much as 400 per cent.'

Dr Madeleine Portwood, Senior Educational Psychologist who ran the trial.

The Study Design

The Education Authority was delighted to collaborate on the study with 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. As it can take several weeks before fatty-acid supplementation show results, the collaborators opted for a simple design: a six-month-long trial throughout the 2002 school year, with a one-way cross-over at the mid-point.

  • Nearly 200 children were initially identified. All of the children had some difficulties with coordination - many had additional problems with concentration and learning.
  • A total of 12 schools participated, and crucially, the schools were to have a direct role in administering the treatment.
  • The capsules were to be randomised, that is, assigned on the basis of a code that none of the researchers were able to access. As we were dealing with very inquisitive children, we had to ensure there was no detectable difference between placebo and active capsules.
  • The capsules also had to be double-blinded, meaning that those taking the capsules and those giving out the capsules had to be 'blind' to which participants were on active and which on placebo.
  • For the second three months of the trial, all would be on active. Under this design, when the data is analysed, it may be possible to see a response in those under active treatment in the first three months, that would be mirrored by the placebo group, when they switched to active for the second three months.

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