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Brain Deveopment - Autism Spectrum Disorder|
Omega fatty acid supplements show promise for ASD
Researchers from Nationwide Children's Hospital have shown that omega fatty acid supplements may improve autism spectrum disorder symptoms in toddlers born very preterm (more than 11 weeks early). The study was published recently in the Journal of Nutrition.
"The trial had two goals. First, we wanted to confirm the feasibility of a large study of toddlers born very preterm and exhibiting symptoms often seen with ASD. Second, we wanted to see what effects omega fatty acids have on parent-reported ASD symptoms and related behaviors."
Dr. Keim and her team conducted a study of 31 toddlers born prematurely. For 3 months, half of them took a daily dietary supplement containing a special combination of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The other half took a placebo. To make the study rigorous, families were unaware which they had received.
"We found clinically significant improvements in ASD symptoms in the treatment group, although the benefits were confined to only one measure used," explains Dr. Keim. "We need to do a larger trial to further understand the potential impacts on a larger group of children."
The group that took daily omega fatty acid supplements exhibited greater reduction in ASD symptoms when compared to those taking a placebo, according to ratings by their parents.
Researchers suggest the benefits observed from omega fatty acid supplements might be due to GLA's ability to dampen inflammation. ASD is considered a neuro-inflammatory condition. Influencing inflammation through nutritional supplements could improve behaviors in children with ASD symptoms.
Researchers hope that by giving omega fatty acids to children early when they first show symptoms and their brain is still actively developing, may help them long-term.
"Currently, no medications are available to help children born prematurely with developmental delays and behavior problems they often experience. For very young children, the medications that physicians sometimes try tend to have many side effects. And we don't know what effect those medications have on brains that are still developing," says Dr. Keim. "If using omega fatty acid supplementation helps, it would have a really huge impact for these kids."
Dr. Keim and her team plan to expand their work to a full-scale trial. They recently received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the effect of omega fatty acids in children ages 2-6 year who have ASD.
Children born preterm are at increased risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). n–3 (?-3) Combined with n–6 (?-6) fatty acids including ?-linolenic acid (GLA) may benefit children born preterm showing early signs of ASD. Previous trials have reported that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) promotes cognitive development in preterm neonates and n–3 fatty acids combined with GLA improve attention-deficit–hyperactivity disorder.
The objectives of the pilot Preemie Tots Trial were 1) to confirm the feasibility of a full-scale trial in toddlers born very preterm and exhibiting ASD symptoms and 2) to explore the effects of supplementation on parent-reported ASD symptoms and related behaviors.
This was a 90-d randomized, fully blinded, placebo-controlled trial in 31 children 18–38 mo of age who were born at <=29 wk of gestation. One group was assigned to daily Omega-3-6-9 Junior (Nordic Naturals, Inc.) treatment (including 338 mg eicosapentaenoic acid, 225 mg DHA, and 83 mg GLA), and the other group received canola oil (124 mg palmitic acid, 39 mg stearic acid, 513 mg linoleic acid, 225 mg ?-linolenic acid, and 1346 mg oleic acid). Mixed-effects regression analyses followed intent-to-treat analysis and explored effects on parent-reported ASD symptoms and related behaviors.
Of 31 children randomly assigned, 28 had complete outcome data. After accounting for baseline scores, those assigned to treatment exhibited a greater reduction in ASD symptoms per the Brief Infant Toddler Social Emotional Assessment ASD scale than did those assigned to placebo (difference in change = - 2.1 points; 95% CI: - 4.1, - 0.2 points; standardized effect size = - 0.71). No other outcome measure reflected a similar magnitude or a significant effect.
This pilot trial confirmed adequate numbers of children enrolled and participated fully in the trial. No safety concerns were noted. It also found clinically-significant improvements in ASD symptoms for children randomly assigned to receive Omega-3-6-9 Junior, but effects were confined to one subscale. A future full-scale trial is warranted given the lack of effective treatments for this population. This trial was registered at www.clinicaltrials.gov as NCT01683565.
Authors: Sarah A Keim Barbara Gracious Kelly M Boone Mark A Klebanoff Lynette K Rogers Joseph Rausch Daniel L Coury Kelly W Sheppard Jesse Husk Dale A Rhoda.
Keywords: gamma-linolenic acid, autism spectrum disorder, preterm birth, docosahexaenoic acid, fatty acids, omega fatty acids, development, behavior, infant, toddler.
Supported by the Marci and Bill Ingram Fund for Autism Spectrum Disorders Research, Cures Within Reach, and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences/NIH (grant UL1TR001070). Internal support was also provided by The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital. Nordic Naturals, Inc., provided the investigational product at no cost; and Welsh, Holme, & Clark Co., Inc., provided canola oil at no cost.
The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences or the NIH. Neither the study sponsors nor product providers had a role in the study design; the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; writing of this report; or the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.
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The seed oil of Oenothera biennis (evening primrose) is one source of dietary GLA.
Image credit: Wikipedia