Higher DHA levels linked with better learning for university students: Study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / Paul Bradbury
© Getty Images / Paul Bradbury
High school students with higher blood levels of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) performed better on university selection tests, suggests a new observational study from Chile.

Data from 122 high-school graduates indicated that DHA, but not other fatty acids, was associated with better results on the University Selection Test (Prueba de Selección Universitaria, PSU), including language scholastic achievement (LSA) and mathematics scholastic achievement (MSA). The data is published in Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids​.

“The results of this study highlight the importance of DHA in their association with the learning process at the school level, specially, with the [University Selection Test (Prueba de Selección Universitaria, PSU)],” ​wrote researchers from the University of Chile, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Universidad de Los Andes, and the Universidad del Desarrollo.

“Therefore, these findings can be useful for nutrition of FAs, health and educational planning, in order to protect children starting from an early age and so increase their school outcomes.”

Welcome results

Commenting independently on the study’s findings, Harry Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), told us: “Given the scarcity of data in this age group, the overwhelming results supporting a benefit of DHA in scholastic achievement are truly welcome.

“While it's always important to consider any results in the context of potential limitations, the consistency and strength of the present results provide a compelling case for future research in different populations in the same age group.”

Study details

Omega-3 and fish © Getty Images geckophotos
© Getty Images / geckophotos

From an initial cohort of 671 high-school graduates, 550 of them took the PSU for LSA, while 548 took the PSU for MSA. The researchers then limited their analysis to the teens with the highest and lowest scholastic achievement, giving them data on 122 participants.

Results showed that DHA, socio-economic status, and head circumference-for-age scores were the most relevant associations to both LSA and MSA.

“Over 12 years of age there is no important evidence regarding the impact of DHA on SA, since studies are scarce,” ​wrote the researchers. “Therefore, the findings of the present study would be the first to establish the significant and high association between the levels of DHA in erythrocytes and the performance in PSU tests, the baccalaureate examinations for university admission, of national coverage in Chile.

“These results can be useful for nutrition, health and education planning, in order to protect children starting from an early age and thus increase their school outcomes.”

Source: Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids
December 2018, Volume 139, Pages 25-30, doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2018.11.003
“Docosahexaenoic acid levels in erythrocytes and their association with the University Selection Test Outcomes in Chile”
Authors: R. Valenzuela et al.

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