Improving Student Performance with Tasty Omega-3 Cookies

By omega3innovations
5 years ago

Omega-3 represents a family of nutrients that are essential for brain development and good cognitive functioning. In spite of the omega-3 molecules’ physiological importance in the body and brain, research shows that the typical Western diet is highly deficient in omega-3 due to low fatty fish consumption. Making matters worse, the deficiency is exacerbated by the increased intake of processed foods, oversaturated with counteracting omega-6 molecules.

This fatty acid imbalance has led researchers and nutritionists to raise alarms about the brain health of children and young adults. Low omega-3 intake has been linked to a diverse list of neuro-conditions and symptoms, from autism and ADHD (1, 2) to aggression (3) and depression (4). Other studies have examined the effect of adding omega-3 supplements into the diets of young people.

To date, many of these studies have found positive results. In various trials, researchers have concluded that omega-3 supplementation helped improve the working memory of young adults (5), had a calming effect on children with ADHD (6), and helped reduce hyperactivity in children with autism compared to placebo (7), to name just a few.

Not All Fish Oil Supplements Are the Same

While these studies indicate that omega-3 supplementation may benefit the brain and behavior, most studies have used fish oil capsules as their means of presentation. However, fish oil capsules typically have high oxidation levels (8, 9). The corresponding rancid fishy taste and pungent smell of the oil contribute to famously low compliance rates and limited efficacy (9).

To improve compliance and help consumers see measurable benefits, Omega3 Innovations has worked to creatively integrate fresh fish oil into foods and combine it with another much-needed nutrient — namely soluble fiber.

In 2009, Omega3 Innovations did a simple feasibility study with 12 elementary school children with ADD. The students were given two cookies containing 1000 mg of EPA/DHA daily, providing the students with a total of 2000 mg of EPA/DHA per day. The results indicated that the omega-3 supplementation via the cookies improved the children’s focus. However, we questioned whether the outcome would be the same in a more mainstream population group.

This year, we had the opportunity to work with the students of SKY Academy — a tuition-free, Sarasota public charter middle school founded by the YMCA. Conducting a new study, we decided to investigate if a lower dose of one cookie (containing 1000 mg of EPA/DHA) would positively impact students’ focus and academic performance.

How Did We Carry Out Our Omega-3 Cookie Study?

Starting in January 2015, we began a 6-week trial with SKY Academy. Students from sixth, seventh and eighth grade volunteered to be part of the study and to eat one cookie each day of the week. Each school morning, the school health aid would distribute one cookie to the students participating in the study. On Fridays, the health aid would also provide each student with a bag of two cookies to take home over the weekend.

As part of the study, the students could choose between two different types of cookies: a small cranberry Omega Cookie® or a chocolate-covered Omega Heaven® cookie. For the purpose of the study, both cookies contained 1000 mg of EPA/DHA from fresh, full-spectrum cod liver oil, 4 grams of fiber from gluten-free whole oats, 400 IUs of vitamin D and 200 mg of calcium.

Before the trial began, the students were tested using the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST), an international test used to measure the ability to stay focused and pay attention to change. At the completion of the 6-week period, the students were again tested using the WCST. In addition, the school teachers measured the students’ overall improvements in i-Ready reading tests, as well as Study Island subject tests in Math, Science, and Language Arts.

Five weeks after the trial ended, a sub-group of 10 students were tested again using the WCST. In addition, they were asked about their desire to eat a cookie most days of the week in the future.

What We Found

25 students completed the study (8 girls, 17 boys). Examining the results from the WCST, the majority of the students showed improvements:

Results from the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test


Overall Improvement in Number of Correct Responses
All Students

76%

Overall Reduction in Errors
All Students

68%

Overall Reduction in Perseverative Errors
All Students

72%

Overall Improvement in Conceptual Level Responses
Measure of insight into sorting principles

72%

The school also shared the students’ scores on the i-Ready reading test and Study Island subject tests relative to their scores collected prior to the study.

Study coordinator Debra Betterly, PhD, working with one of the students.

Results from School I-Ready Reading Test


Overall Improvement in I-Ready
All Students

62.5%

Overall Improvement in I-Ready
Female Students

50%

Overall Improvement in I-Ready
Male Students

66.7%

Range of Improvement in I-Ready
All Students

1 to 120 points

Results from Other School Subject Tests


Overall Improvement in Study Island
Math Students

87.5%

Overall Improvement in Study Island
Science Students

50%

Overall Improvement in Study Island
Language Arts Students

33%

Range of Improvement in Percentage of Correct Answers
All Students

4 – 65%

Analyzing the Students’ Compliance and Performance

Our results indicate that of the students who completed the study, 76% improved their WCST scores with a 68% overall reduction in errors. Overall 62.5% of the students also demonstrated improvements in reading and 87.5% demonstrated improvements in math. These scores suggest the cookie regime boosted the students’ ability to focus. In addition, many students self-reported feeling more focused eating the cookies every day, as did some parents and teachers when presented with questionnaires.

Five weeks post study, a random sub-group of 10 students were tested again using the WCST. This time, the students showed a 60% overall regression in their test scores. This result is especially significant since by this time, the students would have resumed their regular diets and would no longer benefit from the increased omega-3 intake during the trial period. That the students’ scores decreased on this third try again lends support to the theory that the students improved as a result of eating the cookies as opposed to by virtue of gaining more test experience.

As part of the study, we also surveyed the students’ taste response to eating the cookies. Two students did pull out of the study because they did not want to eat the cookies every day. Of the 25 students who remained however, 72% of the students reported looking forward to eating their cookie each day. In addition, when the sub-group of students were re-tested 5 weeks after the trial, 9 out of the 10 students said they would like to continue eating the cookie each day.

In this study, we did not use any placebo ingredients or have a control group to compare the students’ gains to the performance of their peers. To have a better assessment of how omega-3 supplementation from cookies could affect student performance, a larger, double-blind study would be necessary. In spite of the limitations of this study, our results indicate the cookies’ potential as taste-friendly, omega-3 rich food that could benefit the focus and academic performance of young people.

We plan to carry out larger studies using Omega3 Innovations products in the future. To stay updated, check back on our blog or sign up for our monthly newsletter in the footer below.

References: 

1. Vancassel S et al. Plasma Fatty Acid Levels in Autistic Children. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids. 2001 Jul;65(1):1-7.

2. Burgess JR, Stevens L, Zhang W, Peck L. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2000;71(1 Suppl):327S–30S.

3. Hamazaki T, Hamazaki K. Fish Oils and Aggression or Hostility. Progress in Lipid Research. 2008 Jul;47(4):221-32. doi: 10.1016/j.plipres.2008.02.001.

4. Osher Y1, Belmaker RH. Omega-3 fatty acids in depression: a review of three studies. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics. 2009 Summer;15(2):128-33.

5. Narendran R, Frankle WG, Mason NS, Muldoon MF, Moghaddam B (2012). Improved Working Memory but No Effect on Striatal Vesicular Monoamine Transporter Type 2 after Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Supplementation. PLoS ONE 7(10): e46832. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046832.

6. Perera H, Jeewandara KC, Seneviratne S, Guruge C. Combined ω3 and ω6 supplementation in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) refractory to methylphenidate treatment: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Journal of Child Neurology. 2012 Jun; 27(6):747-53. doi: 10.1177/0883073811435243.

7. Amminger GP, Berger GE, Schäfer MR, Klier C, Friedrich MH, Feucht M. Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation in children with autism: a double-blind randomized, placebo-controlled pilot study. Biological Psychiatry. 2007 Feb 15;61(4):551-3.

8. Albert BB, Cameron-Smith D, Hofman PL, Cutfield WS. Oxidation of marine omega-3 supplements and human health. BioMed Research International, vol. 2013, Article ID 464921, 8 pages, 2013. doi:10.1155/2013/464921.

9. Turner R, McLean CH, Silvers KM. Are the health benefits of fish oils limited by products of oxidation? Nutrition Research Reviews (2006) 19, 53–62.

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Omega3 Innovations is a physician-directed company, dedicated to improving wellness with a unique line of fresh, effective and delicious omega-3 based products.

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