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Increased micronutrient intake may improve intelligence in children with low blood nutrient levels

October 19, 2012

A new Australian review suggests that supplementation with vitamins, minerals, and/or omega-3 fatty acids may positively influence cognition, learning, and behavior in children and adolescents, especially those with low socioeconomic status and learning disabilities.

The review included 25 randomized controlled trials investigating the effect of supplementing children and adolescents in developed countries with multivitamins, minerals with or without omega-3 fatty acids on nonverbal intelligence tests and on behavioral measures (1). The majority of current research suggests that supplementation may positively influence nonverbal intelligence, cognitive abilities, learning, and behavioral outcomes in children and adolescents. The largest treatment effects were seen in trials with durations of at least 3 months and in subgroups of children with low socioeconomic status, learning disabilities and symp-toms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Most of the studies that analysed blood samples for nutrients reported that participants with lower blood nutrient concentrations were more likely to respond to supple-mentation than those who already consumed adequate amounts of nutrients.

The researchers commented that future studies should focus on real-life, school-based outcomes such as academic achievement, school grades, reprimands, suspensions and detentions, as such data will provide practical, meaningful data in a population setting. A recommendation made by several studies reviewed is for future research to assess blood nutrient levels pre- and post intervention to determine whether it is only those suffering from nutritional deficiencies who respond positively to supplementation. The associations among socioeconomic background, dietary patterns and blood micronutrient status should also be consi-dered. In developed countries, children from all socioeconomic strata are at risk of suffering from nutritional deficiencies, the scientists noted. Results from a recent Australian survey, for example, indicate that children have an intake of fruit and vegetables (2) as well as omega-3 fatty acids (3) that is well below dietary guide-lines.

Adequate micronutrient intake is thought to play a key role in healthy brain development and function. Es-pecially in children and during adolescence, when the body undergoes a significant period of brain develop-ment, healthy cognitive functioning, learning and behavior seem to strongly depend on a sufficient supply of vitamins, minerals, trace elements and essential fatty acids.

References

  1. Frensham L. J. et al. Influences of micronutrient and omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on cognition, learning, and behavior: methodological considerations and implications for children and adolescents in developed societies. Nutrition Reviews. 2012; 70(10):594–610.
  2. Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Preventataive Health National Research Flagship. Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey. Canberra, New South Wales: University of South Australia; 2007:24–25.
  3. O’Sullivan T. A. et al. Dietary intake and food sources of fatty acids in Australian adolescents. Nutrition. 2011; 27:153–159.