The Influence of Prenatal DHA Supplementation on Individual Domains of Behavioral Functioning in School-Aged Children: Follow-Up of a Randomized Controlled Trial.

Nutrients. 2021;13(9)

Plain language summary

Omega-3 fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are thought to be beneficial for the development of the fetal brain. Women with a singleton pregnancy at <21 weeks’ gestation enrolled in this multicentre, double-blind, randomised controlled trial to assess the fetal neurodevelopment effects of 800 mg/day, which they took until the birth of their children. A follow-up assessment was arranged when the children reached age seven to evaluate their neurodevelopment. Children of women who took DHA supplements showed increased risk scores on hyperactivity, behavioural problems that may impact daily activities, ADHD, peer relationships, Metacognition Indexes, Shift, Inhibit, Monitor, Working Memory, and Organization of Materials scales. Supplementing with high doses of DHA during pregnancy might not have any protective effects on neurodevelopment in women with high baseline DHA levels. However, further robust studies are required to confirm the results to determine the clinical applicability of DHA supplementation in pregnant women. Healthcare professionals can use the results of this study to understand the dose-dependent therapeutic application of DHA and its impact on fetal neurodevelopment.


Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) accumulates in the fetal brain during pregnancy and is thought to have a role in supporting neurodevelopment. We conducted a multicenter, double-blind, randomized controlled trial in women with a singleton pregnancy who were <21 weeks' gestation at trial entry. Women were provided with 800 mg DHA/day or a placebo supplement from trial entry until birth. When children reached seven years of age, we invited parents to complete the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF), and the Conners 3rd Edition Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Index to assess child behavior and behavioral manifestations of executive dysfunction. There were 543 parent-child pairs (85% of those eligible) that participated in the follow-up. Scores were worse in the DHA group than the placebo group for the BRIEF Global Executive, Behavioral Regulation and Metacognition Indexes, and the Shift, Inhibit, Monitor, Working Memory, and Organization of Materials scales, as well as for the Conners 3 ADHD index, and the SDQ Total Difficulties score, Hyperactivity/Inattention score, and Peer Relationship Problems score. In this healthy, largely term-born sample of children, prenatal DHA supplementation conferred no advantage to childhood behavior, and instead appeared to have an adverse effect on behavioral functioning, as assessed by standardized parental report scales.

Lifestyle medicine

Fundamental Clinical Imbalances : Neurological
Patient Centred Factors : Triggers/Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Environmental Inputs : Diet ; Nutrients ; Psychosocial influences
Personal Lifestyle Factors : Nutrition ; Psychological
Functional Laboratory Testing : Not applicable
Bioactive Substances : Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

Methodological quality

Jadad score : 5
Allocation concealment : No