- Omega fatty acid supplementation can improve autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms in toddlers
- Daily intake of omega fatty acid supplement can reduce ASD symptoms
- Omega fatty acid supplementation reduces ASD symptoms due to the role of these nutrients in inflammation in the body
Omega fatty acid supplements can help improve autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms in toddlers who were born very preterm, i.e., 11 weeks early.
The research team from Nationwide Children's Hospital published the study in the Journal of Nutrition.
‘Early supplementation of omega fatty acid can help improve behaviors in toddlers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms.’
Effects of Omega Fatty Acids
"The trial had two goals. First, we wanted to confirm the feasibility of a large study of toddlers born very preterm and exhibiting symptoms often seen with ASD. Second, we wanted to see what the effects of omega fatty acids would be on parent-reported ASD symptoms and related behaviors," says Sarah Keim, Ph.D., lead author on the study and principal investigator in the Center for Biobehavioral Health in The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's.
Dr. Keim and her team conducted the study, and about 31 toddlers who were born prematurely took part in the study.
The toddlers were divided into two groups, and for three months, half of them were given a daily dietary supplement with a special combination of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and the other half was given a placebo. However, the families were unaware of what the toddlers received to make the study rigorous.
Decrease Autism Spectrum Disorder Symptoms
The results showed that the group that received a daily intake of omega fatty acid supplement exhibited a higher reduction in ASD symptoms when compared to those who took the placebo, which was according to ratings provided by the children's parents.
Dr. Keim said that improvements in ASD symptoms were clinically significant in the treatment group, although benefits were confined to one measure that the research team had used and said that a larger trial is needed for a further study to understand the potential impacts on children.
The reason why omega fatty acid supplementation reduced ASD symptoms could be due to the role of these nutrients in inflammation in the body.
ASD is a neuroinflammatory condition. The research team suggests that by influencing inflammation through a nutritional supplementation can help improve behaviors in toddlers with ASD symptoms.
Need for Further Study
The research team hopes that by giving omega fatty acids to children when they first show symptoms can help them on a long-term basis, as the brain is still actively developing.
"Currently, no medications are available to help children born prematurely with the developmental delays and behavior problems they often experience. For very young children, the medications that physicians sometimes try tend to have many side effects. And we don't know what effect those medications have on brains that are still developing," said Dr. Keim.
Dr. Keim and her team have planned to expand the work in a full-scale trial in the future and have received a grant from the National Institutes of Health recently to study the effect of omega fatty acids in children with ASD who are in the age group of two and six years.
Autism is a neurological disorder that usually occurs before the age of 3 and can last a lifetime.
Autism begins in childhood and persists into adolescence and adulthood. Some may be able to live independent and productive lives, and some might have severe disabilities and require life-long care and support.
Facts and Statistics on Autism
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) occurs in 1 in 160 children worldwide
- About 40 percent of the children with autism do not speak
- Autism is diagnosed more often in boys than girls
- Around 30-50 percent of autism children have seizures
Once diagnosed with autism, additional evaluation needs to be done by health specialists as there is no biological test for diagnosing autism.
Specialists like a developmental pediatrician, a child psychologist or psychiatrist or a speech-language pathologist can assess cognitive and language abilities and age-appropriate skills needed to perform daily self-chores.