British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers

Human and Clinical Nutrition

Effects of high-dose fish oil supplementation during early infancy on neurodevelopment and language: a randomised controlled trial

Suzanne J. Meldruma1a2 c1, Nina D'Vaza1, Karen Simmera1a2, Janet A. Dunstana1, Kathryn Hirda1a3 and Susan L. Prescotta1

a1 School of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Western Australia, M561, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, 6009 WA, Australia

a2 School of Women's and Infants Health, University of Western Australia, M550, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, 6009 WA, Australia

a3 Faculty of Medicine, Notre Dame University, PO Box 1225, WA 6959, Australia


n-3 Long-chain PUFA (LC-PUFA) intake during infancy is important for neurodevelopment; however, previous studies of n-3 LC-PUFA supplementation have been inconclusive possibly due to an insufficient dose and limited methods of assessment. The present study aimed to evaluate the effects of direct supplementation with high-dose fish oil (FO) on infant neurodevelopmental outcomes and language. In the present randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 420 healthy term infants were assigned to receive a DHA-enriched FO supplement (containing at least 250 mg DHA/d and 60 mg EPA/d) or a placebo (olive oil) from birth to 6 months. Assessment occurred at 18 months via the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development (3rd edition; BSID-III) and the Child Behavior Checklist. Language assessment occurred at 12 and 18 months via the Macarthur–Bates Communicative Development Inventory. The FO group had significantly higher erythrocyte DHA (P = 0·03) and plasma phospholipid DHA (P = 0·01) levels at 6 months of age relative to placebo. In a small subset analysis (about 40 % of the total population), children in the FO group had significantly higher percentile ranks of both later developing gestures at 12 and 18 months (P = 0·007; P = 0·002, respectively) and the total number of gestures (P = 0·023; P = 0·006, respectively). There was no significant difference between the groups in the standard or composite scores of the BSID-III. The results suggest that improved postnatal n-3 LC-PUFA intake in the first 6 months of life using high-dose infant FO supplementation was not beneficial to global infant neurodevelopment. However, some indication of benefits to early communicative development was observed.

(Received May 31 2011)

(Revised November 02 2011)

(Accepted November 17 2011)

(Online publication February 21 2012)

Key Words:

  • n-3 Long-chain PUFA;
  • Infant supplementation;
  • Neurodevelopment;
  • Language


c1 Corresponding author: Dr S. J. Meldrum, fax +61 9388 2097, email


  Abbreviations: AA, arachidonic acid; BSID-III, Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development (3rd edition); CBCL, Child Behavior Checklist; FA, fatty acid; FO, fish oil; LC-PUFA, long-chain PUFA; MCDI, Macarthur–Bates Communicative Development Inventory