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Autism Spectrum Disorder

Omega fatty acid supplements show promise in ASD

Toddlers born more than 11 weeks preterm show improved autism spectrum disorder symptoms with simple treatment...

Researchers from Nationwide Children's Hospital have shown that omega fatty acid supplements may improve autism spectrum disorder symptoms in toddlers who were born very preterm (more than 11 weeks early). The study was published recently in the Journal of Nutrition.
"The trial had two goals. First, we wanted to confirm the feasibility of a large study of toddlers born very preterm and exhibiting symptoms often seen with ASD. Second, we wanted to see what the effects of omega fatty acids would be on parent-reported ASD symptoms and related behaviors."

Sarah Keim PhD, Principal Investigator in the Centers for Biobehavioral Health, Innovation in Pediatric Practice, and Perinatal Research, The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, Ohio, and lead author on the study.

Dr. Keim and her team conducted a small study on only 31 toddlers born prematurely. For 3 months, about half of them took a daily dietary supplement (added to an existing diet) that contained a special combination of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, the other half of the children took a placebo. Families were unaware of which they received to make the study rigorously unbiased.

The group that actually took a daily omega fatty acid supplement exhibited a greater reduction in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) symptoms than those who took a placebo, according to ratings provided by the children's parents.

"We found clinically significant improvements in ASD symptoms in the treatment group, although the benefits were confined to one measure we used," explains Dr. Keim. "We need to do a larger trial to further understand the potential impacts on a larger group of children."
Researchers suggest these observed benefits of omega fatty acid supplements may be due to reduced inflammation in the body brought on by omega nutrients as ASD is generally considered a neuro-inflammatory condition. Researchers hope that by giving omega fatty acids to children early, when they first show symptoms and the brain is still actively developing, may help them long-term.

"Currently, no medications are available to help children born prematurely with the developmental delays and behavior problems they often experience. For very young children, the medications that physicians sometimes try tend to have many side effects. And we don't know what effect those medications have on brains that are still developing," says Dr. Keim. "If using omega fatty acid supplementation helps, it would have a really huge impact for these kids."

Dr. Keim and her team plan to expand the work in a full-scale trial in the future. They recently received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the effect of omega fatty acids in children ages 2-6 year who display ASD symptoms.

BACKGROUND: Children born preterm are at increased risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). n-3 (?-3) Combined with n-6 (?-6) fatty acids including ?-linolenic acid (GLA) may benefit children born preterm showing early signs of ASD. Previous trials have reported that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) promotes cognitive development in preterm neonates and n-3 fatty acids combined with GLA improve attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

OBJECTIVES: The objectives of the pilot Preemie Tots Trial were 1) to confirm the feasibility of a full-scale trial in toddlers born very preterm and exhibiting ASD symptoms and 2) to explore the effects of supplementation on parent-reported ASD symptoms and related behaviors.

METHODS: This was a 90-d randomized, fully blinded, placebo-controlled trial in 31 children 18-38 mo of age who were born at <=29 wk of gestation. One group was assigned to daily Omega-3-6-9 Junior (Nordic Naturals, Inc.) treatment (including 338 mg eicosapentaenoic acid, 225 mg DHA, and 83 mg GLA), and the other group received canola oil (124 mg palmitic acid, 39 mg stearic acid, 513 mg linoleic acid, 225 mg ?-linolenic acid, and 1346 mg oleic acid). Mixed-effects regression analyses followed intent-to-treat analysis and explored effects on parent-reported ASD symptoms and related behaviors.

RESULTS: Of 31 children randomly assigned, 28 had complete outcome data. After accounting for baseline scores, those assigned to treatment exhibited a greater reduction in ASD symptoms per the Brief Infant Toddler Social Emotional Assessment ASD scale than did those assigned to placebo (difference in change = - 2.1 points; 95% CI: - 4.1, - 0.2 points; standardized effect size = - 0.71). No other outcome measure reflected a similar magnitude or a significant effect.

CONCLUSIONS: This pilot trial confirmed adequate numbers of children enrolled and participated fully in the trial. No safety concerns were noted. It also found clinically-significant improvements in ASD symptoms for children randomly assigned to receive Omega-3-6-9 Junior, but effects were confined to one subscale. A future full-scale trial is warranted given the lack of effective treatments for this population. This trial was registered at www.clinicaltrials.gov as NCT01683565.

Authors: Keim SA, Gracious B, Boone KM, Klebanoff MA, Rogers LK, Rausch J, Coury DL, Sheppard K, Husk, Rhoda DA

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Mar 7, 2018   Fetal Timeline   Maternal Timeline   News   News Archive

Different types of omega-3 fatty acids can be confusing. There are plant sources with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which converts to omega-3 fatty acid when in the body. And, there are also fish oils, which contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Image Credit: Rocky Mountain Analytical Laboratories

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