Study Finds DHA Supplementation Does Not Impact Neurodevelopment in Preterm Infants


New research conducted by the University of Adelaide in Australia has revealed that supplementing infants born at less than 29 weeks gestation with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) has no effect on their behavioral functioning later in life. The study, titled “High-Dose Docosahexaenoic Acid in Newborns Born at Less Than 29 Weeks’ Gestation and Behavior at Age 5 Years,” was published in the JAMA Pediatrics journal and involved a follow-up of a randomized clinical trial with preterm infants.

Preterm infants face increased risks of neurobehavioral disabilities and cognitive difficulties. Previous studies have suggested that lower levels of DHA in the brains of preterm infants could negatively influence their neurodevelopment. In an attempt to address this issue, the clinical trial was conducted at ten Australian centers between 2012 and 2015. For the trial, infants born before 29 weeks were randomly assigned to receive daily enteral emulsions containing 60 mg/kg/d of DHA (n=361) or a soy-oil emulsion (n=370) from within the initial three days of enteral feeding until either 36 weeks postmenstrual age or discharge home, whichever occurred first.

The researchers followed up with the children at the age of five and examined their behavioral and cognitive development. The outcome was measured using parental surveys without any medical or psychological verification. The surveys included the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning (BRIEF), and other health-related quality of life assessments.

The results of the study indicated that DHA supplementation in preterm infants had no impact on their behavioral functioning at the age of five. The researchers found no significant differences in the prevalence of asthma between the two groups, and no adverse effects were reported.

Interestingly, although previous studies had suggested that DHA supplementation could improve IQ in infants, this study emphasizes the distinction between behavioral and cognitive domains. It suggests that while DHA supplementation may have an effect on cognition, it may not necessarily influence behavior.

The findings of this study have important implications for the medical community and parents of preterm infants. Although DHA supplementation is often considered to have potential benefits for neurodevelopment, this research indicates that it may not have a significant impact on behavioral functioning in the long term. It highlights the complex nature of neurodevelopment and the need for further research to fully understand the mechanisms involved.

It is important to note that this study focused specifically on infants born at less than 29 weeks gestation, and further research is needed to determine if DHA supplementation may have different effects on infants born at different gestational ages. Understanding how different factors, such as gestational age and the dosage of DHA, may influence the neurodevelopment of preterm infants is crucial for providing the best care and support to these vulnerable individuals.

In conclusion, the research conducted by the University of Adelaide suggests that supplementing preterm infants with DHA does not have a significant impact on their behavioral functioning at the age of five. This highlights the need for further studies to better understand the complex relationship between DHA supplementation, neurodevelopment, and behavior.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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