Advertisement

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Supplementation in Young Children with Autism

  • Cynthia R. Johnson
  • Benjamin L. Handen
  • Michelle Zimmer
  • Kelley Sacco
Original Article

Abstract

Recent reports suggest that 52–95% of children with an autism spectrum disorder in the United States are using some form of alternative treatment (Hanson et al. 2007; Harrington et al. 2006; Wong and Smith 2006). One alternative treatment that has been shown to have some potential promise is polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation (PUFA). PUFAs are naturally occurring lipids that must be taken in through the diet and are critical to the rapidly developing brains of young children (Fernstrom 2000; Horrocks and Farooqui 2004). This pilot study involved a 3-month, prospective, open label, but randomized, parallel groups design of PUFA supplement compared to a healthy, low sugar diet (attention control) for young children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The PUFA for this study was Docoahexanoic Acid (DHA). The PUFA group had ten participants while the control group had 13 participants. Participants in the PUFA took two capsules per day for a daily dose of 400 mg of DHA for 3 months. No clinical gains were realized on any of the behavioral or developmental outcome measures. The statistically significant differences can be accounted for by differences in the two groups at baseline. While no clinical improvements were observed, the omega-3 supplements were well-tolerated. While our results do not support DHA supplementation at 400 mg / day, further inquiry is warranted given the equivocal results among individuals with autism and other developmental disorders. Our study was limited by a small sample size and limited outcome measures.

Keywords

Autism spectrum disorder Preschool children Polyunsaturated fatty acid Alternative treatments 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank Kathleen Colborn for her assistance on this project with respect to data management oversight and assisting with monitoring adherence. The authors would also like to thank all of the participating families.

Acknowledgement of funding

Supported by the John F. & Nancy A. Emmerling Fund / The Pittsburgh Foundation

Financial disclosures

Dr. Cynthia Johnson reported no biomedical financial interest or potential conflicts of interest. Dr. Benjamin Handen disclosed consulting fees for Forest, Bristol Myer Squibb and has research funding from Forest, Bristol Myer Squibb, Johnson and Johnson, Neuropharm, Curemark. Dr. Dr. Michelle Zimmer reported no biomedical financial interest or potential conflicts of interest.

References

  1. Achenbach, T. M. (2002). Child behavior checklist 1 ½ –5. Burlington: University of Vermont Department of Psychiatry.Google Scholar
  2. Amminger, G. P., Berger, G. E., Schafer, M. R., Klier, C., Friedrich, M. H., & Feucht, M. (2007). Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation in children with autism: a double-blind randomized, placebo-controlled pilot study. Biological Psychiatry, 61, 551–553.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. APA. (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
  4. Bell, J. G., Sargent, J. R., Tocher, D. R., & Dick, J. R. (2000). Red blood cell fatty acid compositions in a patient with autistic spectrum disorder: a characteristic abnormality in neurodevelopmental disorders? Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, & Essential Fatty Acids, 63, 21–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bell, J. G., MacKinlay, E. E., Dick, J. R., MacDonald, D. J., Boyle, R. M., & Glen, A. C. (2004). Essential fatty acids and phospholipase A2 in autistic spectrum disorders. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, & Essential Fatty Acids, 71, 201–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bu, B., Ashwood, P., Harvey, D., King, I. B., Water, J. V., & Jin, L. W. (2006). Fatty acid compositions of red blood cell phospholipids in children with autism. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, & Essential Fatty Acids, 74, 215–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2007). Surveillance summaries. MMWR [Electronic Version], 56(No. SS-1). Retrieved May 22, 2007.Google Scholar
  8. Fernstrom, J. D. (2000). Can nutrient supplements modify brain function? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 71, 1669S–75S.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Fombonne, E. (2003). Epidemiological surveys of autism and other pervasive developmental disorders: an update. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 33, 365–382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Freeman, M. P., Hibbeln, J. R., Wisner, K. L., Davis, J. M., Mischoulon, D., Peet, M., et al. (2006). Omega-3 fatty acids: evidence basis for treatment and future research in psychiatry. Journal Clinical Psychiatry, 67, 1954–1967.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hanson, E., Kalish, L., Bunce, E., Curtis, C., McDaniel, S., Ware, J., et al. (2007). Use of complementary and alternative medicine among children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 37(4), 628–636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Harrington, J. W., Rosen, L., & Patrick, P. A. (2006). Parental perceptions and use of complementary and alternative medicine practices for children with autistic spectrum disorders in private practice. Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 27, S156–S161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Horrocks, L. A., & Farooqui, A. A. (2004). Docosahexaenoic acid in the diet: its importance in maintenance and restoration of neural membrane function. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes & Essential Fatty Acids, 70, 361–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Johnson, S. M., & Hollander, E. (2003). Evidence that eicosapentaenoic acid is effective in treating autism. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 64, 848–849.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lord, C., Rutter, M., DiLavore, P. C., & Risi, S. (2002). Autism diagnostic observation schedule: A standardized observation of communicative and social behavior. Los Angeles, Western Psychological Services. Developmental disorders.Google Scholar
  16. Mullen, E. (1995). Mullen scales of early learning. Circle Pines: American Guidance Service.Google Scholar
  17. Newschaffer, C., & Curran, L. (2003). Autism: an emerging public health problem. Public Health Reports, 118, 393–399.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Patrick, L., & Salik, R. (2005). The effect of essential fatty acid supplementation on language development and learning skills in autism and Asperger’s syndrome. Autism Asperger’s Digest, Jan–Feb, 36–37.Google Scholar
  19. Politi, P., Cena, H., Comelli, M., Marrone, G., Allegri, C., Emanuele, E., et al. (2008). Behavioral effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in young adults with severe autism: an open label study. Archives of Medical Research, 39, 682–685.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Richardson, A. J. (2004). Clinical trials of fatty acid treatment in ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and the autistic spectrum. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, & Essential Fatty Acids, 70, 383–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Richardson, A. J., & Puri, B. K. (2002). A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of the effects of supplementation with highly unsaturated fatty acids on ADHD-related symptoms in children with specific learning difficulties. Progressive Neuropsychopharmacology Biological Psychiatry, 26, 233–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Richardson, A. J., & Montgomery, P. (2005). The Oxford-Durham study: a randomized, controlled trial of dietary supplementation with fatty acids in children with developmental coordination disorder. Pediatrics, 115, 1360–1366.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Ryan, A. S., & Nelson, E. B. (2008). Assessing the effect of docosahexaenoic acid on cognitive functions in healthy preschool children: a randomized placebo-controlled, double-blind study. Clinical Pediatrics, 47, 355–362.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Tapp, J. (2003). Procoder for digital video. Kennedy Center: Vanderbilt University.Google Scholar
  25. Uauy, R., Hoffman, D. R., Peirano, P., Birch, D. G., & Birch, E. E. (2001). Essential fatty acids in visual and brain development. Lipids, 36, 885–895.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Vancassel, S., Durand, G., Barthelemy, C., Lejeune, B., Martineau, J., Guilloteau, D., et al. (2001). Plasma fatty acid levels in autistic children. Prostaglandins Leukotrienes & Essential Fatty Acids, 65, 1–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Wainwright, P. E. (2002). Dietary essential fatty acids and brain function: a developmental perspective on mechanisms. Proceeding of the Nutritional Society, 61, 61–69.Google Scholar
  28. Wong, H. H. L., & Smith, R. G. (2006). Patterns of complementary and alternative medical therapy use in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 36, 901–909.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cynthia R. Johnson
    • 1
  • Benjamin L. Handen
    • 2
  • Michelle Zimmer
    • 3
  • Kelley Sacco
    • 4
  1. 1.Children’s Hospital of PittsburghUniversity of Pittsburgh School of MedicinePittsburghUSA
  2. 2.University of Pittsburgh School of MedicinePittsburghUSA
  3. 3.University of CincinnatiCincinnatiUSA
  4. 4.Children’s Hospital of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

Personalised recommendations