High dose omega-3 may benefit early communicative development

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

High dose omega-3 may benefit early communicative development

Related tags: Fish oil, Docosahexaenoic acid

A fish oil supplement enriched with DHA may benefit early communicative development in infants, says the first randomized controlled trial testing high dose omega-3 on brain development in non-premature infants

While no overall benefits of the high dose omega-3 supplements were observed for neurodevelopmental skills in the infants, data from the University of Western Australia suggests that the omega-3 supplement may benefit early communicative development.

On the flip side, some evidence of increased anxious/depressed behavior was observed in the fish oil supplemented infants, according to findings published in the British Journal of Nutrition​.

Exciting but troubling

Commenting on the study’s findings, Harry Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs for GOED, the omega-3 trade group, said that it was difficult to draw a scientifically valid conclusion based on the study design and results.

Dr Rice told NutraIngredients-USA.com: “While it's exciting that a fish oil supplement had an impact on early communication development, it's troubling that the fish oil group exhibited some evidence of increased anxious/depressed behaviors, a finding yet to ever be reported to my knowledge.

“While I'm confident that the latter will be determined to be a spurious relationship, the same could be said about the former. The authors hit the nail on the head when they indicated that the data ‘presents a case for future larger multi-centre studies to confirm this effect and address longer-term outcomes of language development’.”

Study details

Led by Suzanne Meldrum, a postgraduate researcher at the University of Western Australia’s School of Paediatrics and Child Health, the researchers recruited 420 healthy term infants and randomly assigned them to receive a DHA-enriched fish oil supplement (daily dose of 250mg DHA and 60mg EPA) or olive oil (placebo) for the first six months of their lives.

Results showed that the DHA levels in blood cells were significantly higher in the fish oil supplemented infants.

Neurodevelopment assessments using the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development at the age of 18 months of age and no overall differences were observed between the groups.

However, a subset of the infants displayed an increase in both the development of gestures and the total number of gestures.

“As gesture precedes spoken work acquisition and is associated with later developing vocabulary skills, such data study presents a case for future larger multi-centre studies to confirm this effect and address longer-term outcomes of language development,”​ said the researchers.

However, Meldrum and her co-workers did observe an increase in measures of anxiety/depression in the fish oil-fed infants, compared to placebo. This result “does not support a beneficial effect of early fish oil supplementation on mood”, they said.

“To confirm such findings, further studies are required with larger sample sizes of a more diverse population.”

Mother’s milk versus direct supplementation

The researchers also note that adherence to the intervention was lower using direct supplementation of the infants, which suggests that “maternal supplementation during lactation or infant formula may be a more desirable way to achieve higher DHA status, and potentially more conclusive results of the overall effects of high [omega-3] supplementation during early infancy may be obtained.”

Source: British Journal of Nutrition
 Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1017/S0007114511006878
“Effects of high-dose fish oil supplementation during early infancy on neurodevelopment and language: a randomised controlled trial”
 Authors: S.J. Meldrum, N. D’Vaz, K. Simmer, J.A. Dunstan, K. Hird, S.L. Prescott

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