Prenatal Omega-3 Fatty Acid Does Not Make Offspring Smarter

May 7, 2014

Taking omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in pregnancy doesn’t make your offspring smarter but does make preterm delivery less likely.

Prenatal supplements of omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) does not improve fetal brain development, according to the results of a randomized trial. 

Pertinent Points

- Prenatal DHA supplements, when compared with placebo, did not improve brain development in offspring.

- Cognitive skills, language abilities, and problem-solving outcomes were tested when the children of the mothers who took the supplements were 4 years old.

- The findings do
not support the use of DHA supplements to enhance early childhood development.

Besides evaluating the children in preschool, the babies were also assessed at 18 months, with researchers noting that the mean cognitive, language, and motor scores did not differ between groups, although fewer children in the DHA group had delayed development compared with those in the control group. Those results were previously released. Still, the study results, as expected, showed that those women who took the prenatal DHA supplements were less likely to deliver preterm babies, the authors noted.The study results, which measured cognitive, problem-solving, and language abilities of 4-year-old children, were published in JAMA. Pregnant women in the study were assigned to take either 800 mg/d of DHA or a matched placebo. 

By age 4 years, however, the researchers found that measures of cognition, the ability to perform complex mental processing, language, and executive functioning skills such as memory, reasoning, and problem-solving did not differ significantly between the two groups. The mean General Conceptual Ability scores were no different between the two groups (0.29; 95% CI, -1.35 to 1.93; P=0.73), the authors reported.

"Our data do not support prenatal DHA supplementation to enhance early childhood development," the authors concluded.

The study, led by Maria Makrides, PhD, of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, Adelaide, Australia, included 313 women in the DHA group and 333 in the control group. Of the participants, 91.9% of the families participated in the follow-up.