Sunday, 30 May 2010

Fish oil helps children to concentrate

We have all 'known for a long time the benefits of Omega 3 Fish oil supplementation, but it is always nice when a piece of research comes along which gives validity to this 'knowledge. Thanks to the Guardian for pointing this one out, - It will be implemented into Snowdrop programmes of rehabilitation for brain injured children immediately.

Children can learn better at school by taking omega-3 fish oil supplements which boost their concentration, scientists say.

Boys aged eight to 11 who were given doses once or twice a day of docosahexaenoic acid, an essential fatty acid known as DHA, showed big improvements in their performance during tasks involving attention.

Dr Robert McNamara, of the University of Cincinnati, who led the team of American researchers, said their findings could help pupils to study more effectively and potentially help to tackle both attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression. The study, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is important because a lack of DHA has been implicated in ADHD and other similar conditions, with poor maternal diet sometimes blamed for the child's deficiency.

ADHD affects an estimated 4%-8% of Britons and can seriously impair a child's education because they have trouble concentrating and are often disruptive in class. A lack of DHA has also been associated with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

"We found that, if you take DHA, you can enhance the function of those brain regions that are involved in paying attention, so it helps people concentrate," said McNamara. "The benefit is that it may represent an intervention that will help children or adults with attention impairments."

The researchers gave 33 US schoolboys 400mg or 1,200mg doses of DHA or a placebo every day for eight weeks. Those who had received the high doses did much better in mental tasks involving mathematical challenges. Brain scans showed that functional activity in their frontal cortex – which controls memory, attention and the ability to plan – increased significantly.

The results, and fact that many people eat too little fish to get enough DHA through their diet, meant it could help all children to improve their learning, added McNamara. "The primary benefit is to treat ADHD and depression, but it could also help people with their memory, learning and attention," he said.

Friday, 21 May 2010

What effect does sleep have on learning?

Sleep is very important to both learning and memory formation, which is a vital component of learning. It is almost as though our brains are practicing what they have learned during the day, whilst we are asleep! - Even when we are dreaming.
Ever heard the adage 'sleep on it?'

Sleep enable subconscious learning processes to kick into gear and to reinforce what needs to be encoded in memory.

In one experiment two groups of people were taught new typing skills. The first group were denied sleep that night, whilst the second group were allowed a full night's sleep.

The group who were denied sleep had forgotten almost everything they were taught the previous day, whilst the sleep group performed much better.

Another study involving newborn babies demonstrated that Even though infants may stay awake for just a few hours a day, their brains keep working around the clock. It seems that the brain is constantly adjusting and adapting to the physical world despite appearances that babies are sleeping

Tests on one and two day-old babies showed that their ability to act as "data sponges" – absorbing information about the world around them – never stops. The discovery was made by researchers at the University of Florida after simple experiments with 26 sleeping newborns.

Researchers played a tune to them, and then followed it with a gentle puff of air to the babies' eyelids. After about 20 minutes, 24 of them had learned to anticipate the puff by squeezing their eyes shut.

The babies' brain waves also changed.

Dana Byrd, a psychologist, said, "We found a basic form of learning in sleeping newborns, a type of learning that may not be seen in sleeping adults.

"They are better learners, better 'data sponges' than we knew. While past studies find this type of learning can occur in infants who are awake, this is the first study to document it in their most frequent state, while they are asleep.

"Newborn infants' sleep patterns are quite different to those of older children or adults in that they show more active sleep where heart and breathing rates are very changeable.

"It may be this sleep state is more amenable to experiencing the world in a way that facilitates learning."

The results, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could be used to identify babies that are not developing properly such as those at risk of dyslexia or autism, she added.