Prenatal DHA supplementation improves attention of children at 5 years of age

October 6, 2016

By Rob Winwood

The determination of cognitive development in infant and young children is a complex matter with minimal agreement as to a standard approach. However, it can be said, “Attention is an important component of cognitive performance and helps in optimizing learning outcomes” (1). Indeed, improved attention during the first decade of life has been associated with better school performance in the long term (2).

A new study from Mexico studied the effect of daily prenatal supplementation of 400 mg of algal docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) taken during the last half of pregnancy on the cognitive function of their children at 5 years of age (1). The study cohort consisted of 1094 women from the POSGRAD (Prenatal Omega-3 Fatty Acid and Child Growth and Development) study. While there were no significant differences observed between the intervention group and placebo group when assessing general cognition using McCarthy Scale of Children’s Abilities (MSCA) and for behavior using the Behavioural Assessment System for Children, second edition (BASC-2), there was a significant improvement in the intervention group with regard to sustained attention as measured by the Conners’ Kiddie Continuous Performance Test (K-CPT).

There have been a number of studies that suggest programming effects of DHA on the central nervous system. Judge et al. (3) demonstrated improved problem solving of infants at 9 months in a cohort where the mothers had consumed 300mg/day DHA. Other studies have shown a positive impact of a prenatal DHA supplementation on their children’s IQ and neurodevelopment measures in the preschool period (4,5)


1.       Ramakrishnan U, Gonzalez-Casanova I, Schnaas L et al.; “Prenatal supplementation with DHA improves attention at 5 y of age: a randomized controlled trial”; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2016, ajcn101071.

2.       Washbrook EV, Propper C & Syal K; “Pre-School hyperactivity/attention problems and educational outcomes in adolescence: prospective longitudinal study”; Br J Psychiatry 2013; 203:265-71.

3.       Judge MP, Harel O & Lami-Keefe CJ; “Maternal consumption of a docosahexaenoic acid-containing functional food during pregnancy: benefit of infant performance on problem-solving but not on recognition memory tasks at age 9 months”; Am J Clin Nutr 2007; 85(6):1572-7.

4.       Helland IB, Smith L, Saarem K et al.; “Maternal supplementation with very long chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children’s IQ at 4 years of age”; Pediatrics 2003; 111(1):e39-44.

5.       Jensen CL, Voigt RG, Prager TC et al.; Effects of maternal docosahexaenoic acid intake on visual function and neurodevelopment in breastfed term infants”; Am J Clin Nutr 2005; 82(1); 125-32.