The effects of fish oil supplementation during early infancy on neurodevelopment at six years of age

Alexandra Heaton

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    [Truncated] This thesis investigates the effects of fish oil supplementation in healthy neonates on neurocognitive and behavioural outcomes after 6 years.

    Fish oil contains omega-3 (ω-3) long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA rapidly accumulates within the brain from the third trimester to ~18 months of age. Here, it plays various structural and functional roles, including anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory and anti-apoptotic effects in addition to enhancing neuroplasticity, synaptogenesis and neural signalling.

    The postnatal diet directly modulates the DHA concentration within the developing human brain. However this diet can be variable, whereby the concentration of DHA in breast milk can vary 20-fold between individuals (Brenna et al., 2007); moreover, some formulas contain no DHA at all. Humans can manufacture LC-PUFAs via the metabolism of shorter chain precursors; however, the rate of metabolism varies between individuals, largely due to genetics. While dietary requirements are ill-defined, it is quite possible that many Australian infants are born and raised in a state of DHA insufficiency that will in-turn lower the fatty acid composition of their brains.

    Assuming their DHA requirements are insufficient, it is hypothesised that infants could receive significant benefits from ω-3 LC-PUFA supplementation. There is a need for well-designed randomised controlled trials to critically evaluate whether ω-3 LC-PUFA supplementation during infancy leads to better neurocognitive/behavioural development in childhood.

    The work presented here is the 6 year follow-up of a larger multidisciplinary study named the Infant Fish Oil Study (IFOS). This randomised controlled trial began in 2005 to investigate the immunological and neurodevelopmental effects of direct fish oil supplementation during infancy. IFOS enrolled (n = 420) pregnant women with a history of allergic disease and randomised their infants to receive fish oil (250 – 280 mg DHA + 60 – 110 mg EPA) or placebo (olive oil), daily, independent of feeding methods, from birth to 6 months.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Publication statusUnpublished - Apr 2015


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