Infants fed a formula enriched with long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) from birth to 12 months scored significantly better than a control group on several measures of intelligence conducted between the ages of three to six years, revealed the research team behind the study.
Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the US-based researchers said that children who had consumed the docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)-rich formula showed increased development in detailed tasks involving pattern discrimination, rule-learning and inhibition as well as better performance on two widely-used standardised tests of intelligence.
"These results support the contention that studies of nutrition and cognition should include more comprehensive and sensitive assessments that are administered multiple times through early childhood," said Professor John Colombo from the University of Kansas - who directed the study.
"The results imply that studies of nutrition and cognitive development should be powered to continuethrough early childhood," added the researchers.
Colombo and his team randomised 81 infants to be fed one of four formulas from birth to 12 months; three with varying levels of two LCPUFAs (DHA and ARA) and one formula with no LCPUFA. The children were tested every six months from the age of 18 months until six years of age - using an age-appropriate standardised and specific cognitive tests such as the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test at age five and the Weschler Primary Preschool Scales of Intelligence at age six, explained the team.
At 18 months the children did not perform any better on standardised tests of performance and intelligence, but by age three the team began to see significant differences in the performance of children who were fed the enriched formulas on finer-grained, laboratory-based measures of several aspects of cognitive function, said Colombo.
The team said that 'significant positive effects' were observed from ages three to five years on rule-learning and inhibition tasks,- including Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test and the Weschler Primary Preschool Scales of Intelligence.
However beneficial effects of the omega-3 rich formula were not found in tasks of spatial memory, simple inhibition, or advanced problem solving, they said.
Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.040766
"Long-term effects of LCPUFA supplementation on childhood cognitive outcomes"
Authors: John Colombo, Susan E Carlson, Carol L Cheatham, et al