Food and Behaviour Research

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The effect of vitamin-mineral supplementation on the intelligence of American schoolchildren: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial.

Schoenthaler SJ, Bier ID, Young K, Nichols D, Jansenns S. (2000) J Altern Complement Med.  6(1): 31-5.  

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here


CONTEXT: Many medical, nutrition, and education professionals have long suspected that poor diet impairs the academic performance of Western schoolchildren; academic performance often improves after improved diet. However, others have suggested that such academic gains may be due to psychologic effects rather than nutrition. To resolve this issue, two independent research teams conducted randomized trials in which children were given placebos or low-dose vitamin-mineral tablets designed to raise nutrient intake to the equivalent of a well-balanced diet. Both teams reported significantly greater gains in nonverbal intelligence among the supplemented groups. The findings were important because of the apparent inadequacy of diet they revealed and the magnitude of the potential for increased intelligence. However, none of the ten subsequent replications, or the two original trials, were without limitations leaving this issue in controversy.

OBJECTIVES: To determine if schoolchildren who consume low-dose vitamin-mineral tablets will have a significantly larger increase in nonverbal intelligence than children who consume placebos in a study that overcomes the primary criticisms directed at the previous 12 controlled trials.

DESIGN: A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial using stratified randomization within each teacher's class based on preintervention nonverbal intelligence.

SETTINGS AND SUBJECTS: Two "working class," primarily Hispanic, elementary schools in Phoenix, Arizona, participated in the study. Slightly more than half the teachers in each school distributed the tablets daily to 245 schoolchildren aged 6 to 12 years.

INTERVENTION: Daily vitamin-mineral supplementation at 50% of the U.S. daily recommended allowance (RDA) for 3 months versus placebo.

OUTCOME MEASURES: Post-test nonverbal IQ, as measured by the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised (WISC-R), while controlling for pretest nonverbal IQ as a covariate. FOUR MAIN RESULTS: First, a significant difference of 2.5 IQ points (95% CI: 1.85-3.15) was found between 125 children given active tablets and 120 children given placebo tablets (p = 0.038). Second, this finding is consistent with the mean 3.2 IQ point net gain found in the 12 similar but less rigorous studies. Third, a significantly higher proportion of children in the active group gained 15 or more IQ points when compared to the placebo group (p < 0.01). Fourth, although 81 matched pairs produced no difference at all in nonverbal IQ gain, the modest 2.5 IQ point net gain for the entire sample can be explained by the remaining 24 children who took active tablets, and had a 16 point higher net gain in IQ than the remaining 19 placebo controls.

CONCLUSIONS: This study confirms that vitamin-mineral supplementation modestly raised the nonverbal intelligence of some groups of Western schoolchildren by 2 to 3 points but not that of most Western schoolchildren, presumably because the majority were already adequately nourished. This study also confirms that vitamin-mineral supplementation markedly raises the non-verbal intelligence of a minority of Western schoolchildren, presumably because they were too poorly nourished before supplementation for optimal brain function. Because nonverbal intelligence is closely associated with academic performance, it follows that schools with children who consume substandard diets should find it difficult to produce academic performance equal to those schools with children who consume diets that come closer to providing the nutrients suggested in the U.S. RDA. The parents of schoolchildren whose academic performance is substandard would be well advised to seek a nutritionally oriented physician for assessment of their children's nutritional status as a possible etiology.