- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid that plays a crucial role in brain development and function.
- The sale of prenatal supplements with DHA continues to increase, despite little evidence of benefit to offspring.
- A 7-year follow up study shows that the average IQ of a child whose mother took DHA pills during pregnancy was no different from a mother who didn't have DHA supplements.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is known to improve memory and brain function and is often supplemented for improved cognition.
It is also given to pregnant mothers to enhance the brain development. But a longer-term follow-up of a randomized trial found strong evidence pointed to the lack of benefit of prenatal DHA supplementation on the IQ of children who are 7 years of age, according to a study published by JAMA.
‘Daily supplementation of 800 mg of DHA during the last half of pregnancy showed no difference in the Intelligent Quotient (IQ) of children, when compared with kids of mothers who were not exposed to the supplement.’
The sale of prenatal supplements with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) continues to increase despite little evidence of benefit to offspring neurodevelopment.
Effect of DHA Supplements in Children
Maria Makrides, B.Sc., B.N.D., Ph.D., of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, Adelaide, Australia and colleagues randomized pregnant women to receive 800 mg of DHA daily or a placebo during the last half of pregnancy.
Of those eligible, 543 children (85 percent) participated in the 7-year follow-up. Average IQ of the DHA and control groups did not differ (98.31 for the DHA group vs 97.32 for the control group).
This follow-up was designed to evaluate the effect of prenatal DHA on intelligence quotient (IQ) at 7 years, the earliest age at which adult performance can be indicated.
- At 18 months of age there was no group differences in cognitive, language, and motor development.
- There was no benefit of DHA supplementation in general intelligence, language, and executive functioning, and a possible negative effect on parent-rated behavior and executive functioning at 4 years of age.
- Direct assessments consistently demonstrated no significant differences in language, academic abilities, or executive functioning.
Although perceptual reasoning was slightly higher in the DHA group, parent-reported behavioral problems and executive dysfunction were worse with prenatal DHA supplementation.
The authors note that the small but consistent negative effects of prenatal DHA on behavior and executive functioning at 7 and 4 years may reflect true effects, although effect sizes were small and neurodevelopmental diagnoses did not differ between groups.
A Note on DHA
- DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3 fatty acids are dietary essentials, and are critical to brain development and function.
- DHA is essential for the development of the brain, nerve and eye tissue, especially in infants, so DHA is abundantly found in breast milk.
- DHA, help to regulate the mechanism by which brain neurons communicate by altering the functioning of neural systems utilizing dopamine and serotonin.
- Jacqueline F. Gould et al., Seven-Year Follow-up of Children Born to Women in a Randomized Trial of Prenatal DHA Supplementation, JAMA (2017)