Summary: Providing DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, to children born prematurely boosted their IQ by 3.5 points compared to preterm infants who did not receive DHA supplementation.
New research from SAHMRI has found a link between the omega-3 fatty acid known as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and increased IQ among children born prematurely.
Preterm children are more likely to have lower IQ scores and cognitive impairments compared with term-born children.
Dr. Jacqueline Gould, who led the study now published in the New England Journal of Medicine, says infants born at the earliest gestations are deprived of the natural supply of DHA that normally builds up in the brain during the last trimester of pregnancy.
“These babies have low concentrations of DHA in their brain tissue, which may contribute to poorer cognitive outcomes,” Dr. Gould said.
“The goal of our research was to test if supplementing these children with DHA after they’re born, can make up for some of what they lacked due to preterm birth and boost brain development.”
The study followed 323 infants born before 29 weeks’ gestation, who were given 60mg of DHA/kg per day via enteral or control tube feeding.
They were compared with 333 children in the control group, who received an emulsion with no DHA. At five years old, children in both groups underwent the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI) IQ test.
“On average, those in the DHA group scored 3.5 points higher on the IQ scale than those in the control group,” Dr. Gould said.
“These very promising results suggest DHA has the potential to improve cognitive performance when administered via emulsion for infants born before 29 weeks’ gestation.”
Although medical advances over the past 30 years have increased the survival rates of infants born before 29 weeks’ gestation, there has been no improvement in their cognitive development.
Supplying DHA to these infants while they are in hospital may be one simple intervention that can help boost brain function.
About this IQ and neurodevelopment research news
Author: Press Office Source:SAHMRI Contact: Press Office – SAHMRI Image: The image is in the public domain
Neonatal Docosahexaenoic Acid in Preterm Infants and Intelligence at 5 Years
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a component of neural tissue. Because its accretion into the brain is greatest during the final trimester of pregnancy, infants born before 29 weeks’ gestation do not receive the normal supply of DHA. The effect of this deficiency on subsequent cognitive development is not well understood.
We assessed general intelligence at 5 years in children who had been enrolled in a trial of neonatal DHA supplementation to prevent bronchopulmonary dysplasia. In the previous trial, infants born before 29 weeks’ gestation had been randomly assigned in a 1:1 ratio to receive an enteral emulsion that provided 60 mg of DHA per kilogram of body weight per day or a control emulsion from the first 3 days of enteral feeds until 36 weeks of postmenstrual age or discharge home, whichever occurred first. Children from 5 of the 13 centers in the original trial were invited to undergo assessment with the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI) at 5 years of corrected age. The primary outcome was the full-scale intelligence quotient (FSIQ) score. Secondary outcomes included the components of WPPSI.
A total of 1273 infants underwent randomization in the original trial; of the 656 surviving children who had undergone randomization at the centers included in this follow-up study, 480 (73%) had an FSIQ score available — 241 in the DHA group and 239 in the control group. After imputation of missing data, the mean (±SD) FSIQ scores were 95.4±17.3 in the DHA group and 91.9±19.1 in the control group (adjusted difference, 3.45; 95% confidence interval, 0.38 to 6.53; P=0.03). The results for secondary outcomes generally did not support that obtained for the primary outcome. Adverse events were similar in the two groups.
In infants born before 29 weeks’ gestation who had been enrolled in a trial to assess the effect of DHA supplementation on bronchopulmonary dysplasia, the use of an enteral DHA emulsion until 36 weeks of postmenstrual age was associated with modestly higher FSIQ scores at 5 years of age than control feeding. (Funded by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and Nu-Mega Ingredients; N3RO Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry number, ACTRN12612000503820. opens in new tab.)