Omega-3 rich diet can boost children’s IQ, says meta-analysis

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Omega-3 rich diet can boost children’s IQ, says meta-analysis

Related tags Essential fatty acid

Supplementing children's diets with fish oil is one of several effective ways to raise a young child’s IQ levels, according to a new report.

The meta-analysis, published inPerspectives on Psychological Science, ​finds that supplementation with omega-3 rich fish oil is one of several effective methods to help boost children’s intelligence measures.

Led by John Protzko from New York University (NYU), USA, the research team found that fish oil consumption, along with enrolling childrenin a quality preschool, and engaging them in interactive reading, are all effective at increasing IQ measures.

Protzko and his colleagues analysed the best available studies involving samples of children from birth and kindergarten from their newly assembled ‘Database of Raising Intelligence’ – finding that omega-3 supplementation can boost IQ measures by more than 3.5 points.

"Our aim in creating this database is to learn what works and what doesn't work to raise people's intelligence,"​ said Protzko.

"For too long, findings have been disconnected and scattered throughout a wide variety of journals. The broad consensus about what works is founded on only two or three very high-profile studies."

"The larger goal here is to understand the nature of intelligence, and if and how it can be nurtured at every stage of development,"​ added Professor Joshua Aronson, also of NYU – senior author of the study.

"This is just a first step in a long process of understanding,”​ he said. “It is by no means the last word.”

“In fact, one of the main conclusions is how little high quality research exists in the field and how much more needs to be done."

Study details

Protzko and his colleageus performed the meta-analysis of the studies contained within the database under several headers.

“We first analysed the effects of several nutritional supplements given to expecting mothers, new mothers, and their children in the hopes of raising the children’s intelligence,”​ they explained.

“We found that supplementing either a pregnant mother or supplementing infant formula with long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids raises a young child’s IQ by more than 3.5 points.”

However the team found little or no evidence for a beneficial effect on IQ measures from other forms of nutritional supplements, including iron, thiamine, ascorbic acid, and B-complex vitamins.

“Although providing iron supplements to pregnant mothers and infants may not boost young children’s IQ, introducing them later in a child’s life might,”​ added the research team.

They added that the likely mechanism behind the beneficial effects of omega-3 supplementation lies in the fact that these essential fatty acids provide the building blocks for nerve cell development that the body cannot produce on its own.

"Identifying the link between essential fatty acids and intelligence gives rise to tantalizing new questions for future research and we look forward to exploring this finding,”​ said Protzko.

Source: Perspectives on Psychological Science
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1177/1745691612462585
“How to Make a Young Child Smarter: Evidence From the Database of Raising Intelligence”
Authors: John Protzko, Joshua Aronson, Clancy Blair

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