Food and Behaviour Research

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Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation in children with autism: a double-blind randomized, placebo-controlled pilot study

Amminger GP, Berger GE, Schäfer MR, Klier C, Friedrich MH, Feucht M. (2007) Biol Psychiatry.  61(4): 551-3. Epub 2006 Aug 22. 

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here

Abstract:

BACKGROUND:

There is increasing evidence that fatty acid deficiencies or imbalances may contribute to childhood neurodevelopmental disorders.

METHODS:

We conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled 6-week pilot trial investigating the effects of 1.5 g/d of omega-3 fatty acids (.84 g/d eicosapentaenoic acid, .7 g/d docosahexaenoic acid) supplementation in 13 children (aged 5 to 17 years) with autistic disorders accompanied by severe tantrums, aggression, or self-injurious behavior. The outcome measure was the Aberrant Behavior Checklist (ABC) at 6 weeks.

RESULTS:

We observed an advantage of omega-3 fatty acids compared with placebo for hyperactivity and stereotypy, each with a large effect size. Repeated-measures ANOVA indicated a trend toward superiority of omega-3 fatty acids over placebo for hyperactivity. No clinically relevant adverse effects were elicited in either group.

CONCLUSIONS:

The results of this study provide preliminary evidence that omega-3 fatty acids may be an effective treatment for children with autism.

FAB RESEARCH COMMENT:

Evidence that fatty acid deficiencies or imbalances may contribute to autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders has been accumulating for many years. (See Richardson & Ross 2000)

Blood biochemical studies have shown particular deficiencies of the long-chain omega-3 EPA and DHA, and case reports have suggested possible benefits from supplementation.  However, the controlled clinical trials needed to confirm causality have been lacking.

This pilot randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled trial involved only 13 children, so it was statistically underpowered to detect anything other than huge treatment effects, and therefore exploratory.  

Nonetheless, a trend for reduced hyperactivity was seen in children receiving omega-3 (at a fairly high dose of 1.5/day) vs placebo.

No effective treatments for autism are currently available. Furthermore, omega-3 EPA/DHA are important for healthy brain development and function but often lacking from children's diets, and controlled trials have already provided some evidence of benefits for related conditions such as ADHD and dyspraxia / DCD.

These findings support the case for further, larger-scale trials of omega-3 supplementation in autism.


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