DHA-supplemented Infants Exhibit Higher Gesture Communication

September 3, 2012


Effects of High-dose Fish Oil Supplementation during Early Infancy on Neurodevelopment and Language: a Randomised Controlled Trial
Meldrum, S. J. et al., British Journal of Nutrition, in press, 2012
School of Paediatrics and Child Health, Univ. of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia


This research trial was conducted to evaluate the effects of supplementation with fish oil containing DHA/EPA omega-3 fatty acids on neuro developmental outcomes and language in infants. For this purpose, 420 term infants were randomly assigned to receive either a DHA- enriched supplement (providing at least 250 mg DHA plus 60 mg EPA daily) or a ‘placebo’ (with olive oil lacking DHA/EPA) from birth to 6 months. The capsules were pierced and squirted into the baby’s mouth in the morning just before breast feeding or added to their formula during their first daily feed. Blood samples were taken from the infants at 6 and 12 months to measure their DHA status. Assessment of the infants by the Macarthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory-MCDI (Words and Gestures) was performed at 12 and 18-months while infant development via the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development (BSID-III) was conducted at 18-months as was the Achenbach Child Behavior Checklist for assessing mental health and behavioural development.

As expected, both the red blood cells and plasma phospholipid samples showed significantly higher levels of both DHA and EPA at 6 months when taken from infants that had been supplemented with DHA/EPA relative to controls (‘placebo’ group). No significant differences between the two groups of infants were found for the BSID-III scores or neurodevelopment assessments. However, omega-3 supplementation resulted in significantly better gesture scores on the MCDI relative to the controls both at 12 and 18 months of age. For example, the average raw scores for later and total gestures were higher by 35 % and 23 %, respectively, at 12 months.

Since gesture precedes spoken word acquisition and is associated with later developing vocabulary skills, the authors recommend future and larger multi-centre studies to assess longer- term outcomes of language development in relation to omega-3 intakes.

Dr. Holub's Comments:

Based on the positive influence of DHA/EPA on gesture communication, the present study lends support to mounting evidence that higher intakes of DHA/EPA in some infant populations can enhance subsequent spoken language and communication skills as well as vocabulary and linguistic development. It is of interest to note that the intake of DHA omega-3 via supplementation in this study would provide approximately 250 mg /day. Such an intake is approximately 5 times more than most North American infants are consuming today because of the low levels in mother’s breast milk resulting from low intakes of dietary DHA. In contrast, 250 mg DHA/day is an intake commonly available to breast-fed babies in Japan because of the much higher maternal intakes of DHA from fish/seafood.

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