The DHA (docasahexaenoic acid) Oxford Learning and Behaviour (DOLAB) confirmatory study

There has been mounting interest in the possible benefits of an increased dietary intake of Omega-3 for mental and physical health. Unfortunately, average levels of Omega-3 are very low in most modern Western-type diets.

Previous research has shown that increasing children’s dietary intake of the Omega-3 found in fish and seafood (EPA and DHA) can improve their concentration, reduce disruptive behaviour and boost reading and spelling progress.

However new research has found no evidence Omega-3 DHA supplements help aid or improve the reading ability, memory function or behaviour of under- performing school-children.

About the study

The team from the Universities of Birmingham and Oxford tested 376 children aged 7-9 years old, learning to read, but in the bottom quarter in terms of their ability. Half of the children took a daily Omega-3 DHA supplement and the remaining children took a placebo for 16 weeks. Their reading, behaviour and working memories were tested before and after by their parents at home and teachers in school - with no real differences found in the outcomes.

Research findings

The researchers tested children who were in the bottom quarter of ability in reading, and found no evidence that Omega-3 supplements have any substantial effect on the children’s reading ability or working memory and behaviours.

Previous study

In the DOLAB I study, a team from the Universities of Birmingham and Oxford led by Professor Paul Montgomery conducted a large double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial investigated the effects of Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on reading and behaviour in school children. It involved 362 children from 74 Oxfordshire primary schools. It compared the effects of supplementation with DHA vs placebo over 16 weeks.

The findings appeared promising, particularly for the poorest readers (those in the lowest fifth of the normal population range on a standardised reading assessment). For these children, both reading ability and behaviour reported by parents showed a significant improvement in those children who received active treatment compared with those on placebo over the 16-week treatment period.


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Press Coverage


Montgomery, Paul; Spreckelsen, Thees F.; Burton, Alice; Burton, Jennifer R.; Richardson, Alexandra J. (2018) "Docosahexaenoic acid for reading, working memory and behavior in UK children aged 7-9: A randomized controlled trial for replication (the DOLAB II study)", PLoS One: doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0192909. URL: 

Richardson, Alexandra J., Burton, Jennifer, Sewell, Richard, Spreckelsen, Thees & Montgomery, Paul. (2012) "Docosahexaenoic Acid for Reading, Cognition and Behavior in Children Aged 7-9 Years: A Randomized, Controlled Trial (The DOLAB Study)", PLoS One 7: 9 e43909. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043909. URL:

Montgomery, Paul; Burton, Jenny R.; Sewell, Richard P.; Spreckelsen, Thees F.; Richardson, Alexandra J. (2014) "Fatty acids and sleep in UK children: Subjective and pilot objective sleep results from the DOLAB study – A randomized controlled trial.", Journal of Sleep Research 23: 4 364-388. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12135. URL: m/doi/10.1111/jsr.12135/abstract. 

Montgomery, Paul, Burton, Jennifer R., Sewell, Richard P., Spreckelsen, Thees F. & Richardson, Alexandra J. (2013) "Low Blood Long Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids in UK Children Are Associated with Poor Cognitive Performance and Behavior: A Cross-Sectional Analysis from the DOLAB Study", PLoS One 8: 6 e66697. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0066697. URL:

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