A new randomized trial featured in a soon-to-be published issue JAMA reports that prenatal docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation did not result in improved cognitive, problem-solving or language abilities for children at four years of age. Maria Makrides, B.Sc., B.N.D., Ph.D., of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, Adelaide, Australia and colleagues conducted longer-term follow-up from a previously published study in which pregnant women received 800 mg/d of DHA or placebo (JAMA. 2010 Oct 20;304(15):1675-83). In the initial study, the researchers found that average cognitive, language and motor scores were not different between children at 18 months old. For the follow-up study, outcomes were assessed at four years, a time point when any subtle effects on development should have emerged and can be more reliably assessed.
The majority (91.9 percent) of eligible families participated in the follow-up, with 313 from the DHA group and 333 from the control group. The authors found that measures of cognition, the ability to perform complex mental processing, language and executive functioning (such as memory, reasoning, problem solving) did not differ significantly between groups.
The study concluded that the data did not support that prenatal DHA supplementation enhances early childhood development.
In response to this follow-up study, the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) stated in a press release, “What you need to know is that while mothers were supplemented with 800 mg/day of DHA during pregnancy, there's no indication of how much DHA infants (then toddlers and preschoolers) were receiving. A more important issue is that their DHA status was unknown past the day of birth. Without this information, it's not possible to draw any reasonable conclusions. It's conceivable, and in fact very likely, that the DHA status in both the treatment and control groups was the same at the 18-month evaluation and also at the four-year evaluation. This would explain an absence of any cognitive differences between the groups."