Dietary Supplementation of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Autism



Autism is a behaviorally defined neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by social and communication deficits, accompanied by repetitive and stereotyped behaviors. In general, it is believed that autism is a complex multifactorial disorder and has no single cause. Accordingly, growing evidence supports the idea that this condition may be caused by several factors, including multigenic interactions and complex environmental contributions. Preliminary data have suggested that autism is associated with a reduced intake or cellular abundance of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). This chapter presents an overview of the existing clinical studies and case reports of omega-3 PUFA supplementation in autism. One placebo-controlled trial examining 13 autistic children treated with 1.5 g of omega-3 fatty acids or placebo for 6 weeks failed to demonstrate significant improvement in hyperactivity and stereotypy scores. Three uncontrolled studies and one case report suggested some improvements in the core features of ASD, whereas another uncontrolled study failed to confirm these findings. Side effects were generally mild or absent. While it is not currently possible to recommend omega-3 PUFA as either a mono- or adjunctive-therapy in autism, the available evidence is strong enough to justify continued study. Further work is required to determine whether autistic patients showing reduced levels of PUFA might specifically benefit from omega-3 supplementation.


Asperger Syndrome Pervasive Developmental Disorder Rett Syndrome Autistic Patient Gamma Linolenic Acid 



Arachidonic acid


Aberrant behavior checklist


Assessment of basic language and learning skills


Autism diagnostic interview-revised


Alpha-linolenic acid


Autistic spectrum disorder


Asperger syndrome


Childhood autism rating scale


Docosahexaenoic acid


Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders


Eicosapentaenoic acid


Gamma-linolenic acid


Pervasive developmental disorders


Polyunsaturated fatty acids


  1. Amminger GP, Berger GE, Schafer MR, Klier C, Friedrich MH, Feucht M. Biol Psychiatry. 2007;61:551–3.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bell JG, MacKinlay EE, Dick JR, MacDonald DJ, Boyle RM, Glen AC. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2004;71:201–4.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bent S, Bertoglio K, Hendren RL. J Autism Dev Disord. 2009. doi: 10.1007/s10803-009-0724-5.Google Scholar
  4. Bradstreet J, Kartzinel J. In: Rimland B, editor. DAN! (Defeat Autism Now!) Fall 2001 Conference. San Diego: Autism Research Institute; 2001.Google Scholar
  5. Bu B, Ashwood P, Harvey D, King IB, Water JVd, Jin LW. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2006;74:215–21.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chez MG, Burton Q, Dowling T, Chang M, Khanna P, Kramer C. J Child Neurol. 2007;22:574–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dosman CF, Brian JA, Drmic IE, Senthilselvan A, Harford MM, Smith RW, Sharieff W, Zlotkin SH, Moldofsky H, Roberts SW. Pediatr Neurol. 2007;36:152–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gerster H. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 1998;68:159–73.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Green VA, Pituch KA, Itchon J, Choi A, O’Reilly M, Sigafoos J. Res Dev Disabil. 2006;27:70–84.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hardy PM, Hardy SM. In: Rimland B, editor. DAN! (Defeat Autism Now!) Spring 2002 Conference. San Diego: Autism Research Institute; 2002.Google Scholar
  11. Johnson SM, Hollander E. J Clin Psychiatry. 2003;64:848–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kippes C, Garrison CB. Mo Med. 2006;103:65–8.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Lintas C, Persico AM. J Med Genet. 2009;46:1–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lyons V, Fitzgerald M. J Autism Dev Disord. 2007;37:2022–3.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. McCann JC, Ames BN. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;82:281–95.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. McNamara RK, Carlson SE. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2006;75:329–49.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Megson MN. Med Hypotheses. 2000;54:979–83.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Meguid NA, Atta HM, Gouda AS, Khalil RO. Clin Biochem. 2008;41:1044–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Patrick L, Salik R. Autism Asperger’s Digest. 2005;7:36–7.Google Scholar
  20. Pauling L. Science. 1968;160:265–71.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Politi P, Cena H, Comelli M, Marrone G, Allegri C, Emanuele E, Ucelli di Nemi S. Arch Med Res. 2008;39:682–5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Reading CM. Med J Aust. 1979;2:40.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Ross BM, Seguin J, Sieswerda LE. Lipids Health Dis. 2007;6:21.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Sigman M, Spence SJ, Wang AT. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2006;2:327–55.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Sliwinski S, Croonenberghs J, Christophe A, Deboutte D, Maes M. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2006;27:465–71.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Vancassel S, Durand G, Barthelemy C, Lejeune B, Martineau J, Guilloteau D, Andrès C, Chalon S. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2001;65:1–7.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Young C, Hikita T, Kaneko S, Shimizu Y, Hanaka S, Abe T, Shimasaki H, Ikeda R, Miyazawa Y, Nakajima A. Acta Paediatr Jpn. 1997;39:299–304.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Zecavati N, Spence SJ. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2009;9:129–36.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Health Sciences, Section of human nutrition and dieteticsUniversity of PaviaPaviaItaly

Personalised recommendations