DHA and possible effects on the IQ of children.





Related Monographs

Consumer Data: Cognitive Function Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
Professional Data: Cognitive Function Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)


DHA is a member of the omega-3 group of fatty acids. DHA is also one of the most abundant fatty acids in the brain. In the fetus and young infants, DHA is essential for proper growth and development of the brain, nervous system and the retina of the eye. Because DHA is present in breast milk and not in cow's milk, many physicians recommend breast-feeding or the use of infant formula that contains DHA. The richest dietary sources of DHA are the oils from cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and other marine animals. DHA is also produced in the body, but it must be derived from alpha-linolenic acid, which is found in flaxseed oil.

A study recently published in the journal Pediatrics, examined the possible cognitive effects of supplementing mothers with very-long-chain omega 3 fatty acids during pregnancy. 341 pregnant women were recruited during the 18th week of pregnancy. Women were to receive either 10-mL of cod liver oil (high in DHA) or corn oil. These women were required to continue this regimen 3 months after giving birth. 135 children were asked to return at 4 years of age to undergo intelligence testing. 76 infants were breastfed during the 3 months after birth while supplementation continued. The results of this study showed that children born to mothers supplementing with the cod liver oil had higher intelligence test scores when compared to those whose intake included the corn oil. At 4 years of age, this association persisted. The authors concluded that, “Maternal intake of very-long-chain n-3 PUFAs during pregnancy and lactation may be favorable for later mental development of children.”1


1. Helland IB, 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 Jan;111(1):e39-44.