“Exciting results”: Tufts/Harvard meta-analysis supports omega-3s for child brain development

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Image: iStockPhoto / Khomich
Image: iStockPhoto / Khomich
Supplements of omega-3s during pregnancy or infancy do improve child neurodevelopment, says a meta-analysis of 15 gold standard randomized controlled trials.

Scientists from Tufts University and Harvard report that data from 2,525 children indicated that supplementation with the omega-3s docosahexanoic acid (DHA) and/or eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) during pregnancy or infancy improved motor skills in the children.

They also reported that that supplementation with DHA and arachidonic acid (AA) raised the mental developmental scores in the children.

“These findings indicate the importance of sufficient polyunsaturated fatty acid intake by pregnant women and young children,”​ wrote the researchers in The FASEB Journal​.

The data was presented at this week’s Experimental Biology event in San Diego, CA.

“Corroborates what many scientists have believed for a long time”

Commenting independently on the study Harry Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED)​, told us: “Clearly, these are exciting results and corroborate what many scientists have believed for a long time. That is, omega-3 supplementation, during either pregnancy or infancy has an impact on a child's neurodevelopment. I look forward to a more in-depth review of the research once the peer-reviewed article is published.”

Study details

Led by Masha Shulkin from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, the authors noted that they searched a number of scientific databases for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of omega-3 supplementation for neurodevelopment or cognition. To be included in the analysis the supplementation had to be for longer than three months.

omega 3 fish oil iStock.com nicalfc
Image: iStockPhoto / nicalfc

They identified 15 trials with 20 intervention arms involving 2,525 children. Four intervention arms were for omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy and 16 arms were for infant supplementation. The mean supplementation duration was 7.3 months, they said, and cognitive measures were taken around 16 months.

Results showed that “both maternal and infant supplementation similarly improved neurodevelopment”​, they wrote.

Additional analysis revealed specific benefits for motor skills and mental developmental in the children for select omega-3 regimens.

“Omega-3 supplementation during either pregnancy or infancy improves child neurodevelopment,” ​they concluded.

Source: The FASEB Journal
Volume 30, Number 1, Supplement 295.5
“Effects of omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy and youth on neurodevelopment and cognition in childhood: a systematic review and meta-analysis”
Authors: M.L. Shulkin, L. Pimpin, D. Bellinger, S. Kranz, C. Duggan, W. Fawzi, D. Mozaffarian

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