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Fish Oil Enhances Brain Development

Ninety-eight pregnant Australian women were randomly assigned to receive, in double-blind fashion, 4 g/day of fish oil (providing 1.1 g/day of eicosapentaenoic acid and 2.2 g/day of docosahexaenoic acid [DHA]) or placebo (olive oil) from 20 weeks' gestation until delivery. Seventy-two of their infants were assessed at 2.5 years of age. Children in the fish oil group had a significantly higher mean score for eye-hand coordination than those in the placebo group (114 vs. 108; p = 0.021).

Comment by Alan Gaby, M.D.:

DHA plays an important role in brain development. The fetus has a limited capacity to synthesize DHA from alpha-linolenic acid and is therefore at risk of developing DHA deficiency if maternal intake of DHA is inadequate. Pregnant women in the US and Canada consume significantly less DHA than the 300 mg/day recommended by the National Institutes of Health Workshop on the Essentiality of and Recommended Dietary Intakes for Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids.

The results of the present study demonstrate that maternal fish oil supplementation during pregnancy (providing 2.2 g/day of DHA) can improve the child's eye-hand coordination. Whether lower doses would also be effective requires further research.


Dunstan JA, et al. Cognitive assessment at 2 1/2 years following fish oil supplementation in pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2006:Epub ahead of print.

Reprinted with exclusive permission from The Townsend Letter, October 2007

Key concepts: Fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, EPA, DHA, PUFA, brain development