Omega 3s and GLA found to help ease symptoms of autism in toddlers born pre-term
04/02/2018 // Edsel Cook // Views

A pilot study by Ohio-based researchers suggested that omega-3 oils and gamma linoleic acids (GLA) could help reduce the symptoms of autisms in toddlers born as pre-term babies, reported NutraIngredients.

The research team performed their initial experiment at the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Their testing encompassed toddlers who were born highly pre-term. They published their findings in The Journal of Nutrition.

According to their report, toddlers who received eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and GLA supplementation experienced fewer symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) than those who only got a placebo.

Moreover, supplemented toddlers displayed greater improvements on the Brief Infant Toddler Social Emotional Assessment (BITSEA) scale, a 42-item test that determines if children are at risk for social-emotional/behavioral problems and delays in competence. (Related: Taking vitamins during pregnancy reduces risk of autism by 73%, improves baby’s overall health, new study shows.)

Supplemented toddlers showed fewer ASD symptoms

The pilot study was a randomized, fully-blinded experiment. The 31 participating toddlers ranged from 18 weeks to 8 months, and none of them had been born later than 29 weeks.

The researchers administered Omega-3-6-9 junior treatment to the supplement group for 90 days. The treatment was composed of 338 milligrams (mg) of EPA, 225 mg of DHA, and 83 mg of GLA and oleic acid.

The other group received a placebo comprised of canola oil. It contained 124 mg palmitic acid, 39 mg stearic acid, 513 mg linoleic acid, 225 mg alpha-linolenic acid, and 1345 mg oleic acid.


Researchers performed both intent-to-treat analysis and mixed-effects regression analyses. They also explored the treatment's effects on parent-reported ASD symptoms and related behaviors.

"Despite the small size of the trial, our exploration of treatment effects on parent-reported ASD symptoms suggested improvements in core ASD symptoms as measured by the BITSEA ASD scale," reported Dr. Sarah Keim, the lead author of the study.

Other behavior outcomes did not show any major changes between the omega-3 oil supplement group and the placebo group.

"But no significant effects were observed on the basis of other outcome measures," Dr. Keim added.

There were no safety concerns reported during the trial, suggesting that omega-3/GLA supplement was completely safe for children.

Omega-3 fatty acid supplement could replace some autism drugs

Dr. Keim and her fellow researchers believe an expanded version of their experiment could potentially come across an alternative treatment method for pre-term children with ASD that doesn't involve the use of pharmaceutical drugs.

Indeed, her team theorizes that giving omega fatty acids supplements to ASD-symptomatic children during a time when their brains are in active development will have better results over the long term.

"Currently, no medications are available to help children born prematurely with the developmental delays and behavior problems they often experience," explained Dr. Keim.

According to her, the autism drugs that physicians sometimes give to very young children often trigger various ill effects. For example, the anti-psychotic drug risperidone is linked with obesity and occasional spasming movements.

Furthermore, there is little knowledge about the effect of autism drugs on developing brains when the patients get older.

In comparison, omega-3 oils like EPA and DHA are essential to the human diet for normal growth, development, and health.

"If using omega fatty acid supplementation helps, it would have a really huge impact for these kids. We need to do a larger trial to further understand the potential impacts on a larger group of children," Dr. Keim urged.

The next step for the Ohio research team is to determine the effect of omega fatty acids in older children from two to six years old who showed signs of autism.

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