N-3 fatty acids and cognitive and visual acuity development: methodologic and conceptual considerations

Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Jun;83(6 Suppl):1458S-1466S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/83.6.1458S.


Several randomized clinical studies in infants born preterm and at term have explored the effects on visual acuity development of postnatal supplementation with various sources of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Higher visual acuity after DHA supplementation is a consistent finding in infants born preterm. For infants born at term, the results are less consistent and are better explained by differences in sensitivity of the visual acuity test (electrophysiologic tests being more sensitive than subjective tests) or by differences in the amount of DHA included in the experimental formula. Differences in the sensitivity of the test may also be relevant in discussions of whether the effects of DHA on visual acuity are transient or persistent. A smaller number of studies have attempted to study the effects of DHA on cognitive development. The major focus of this article is to review the types of methods that have been used to evaluate the effects of DHA on cognition and to provide the rationale for measures that are a better conceptual fit. Research is needed (1) to probe the effects of variable DHA exposure on infant and child development, (2) to measure outcomes that better relate to preschool and school-age cognitive function, and (3) to reinforce, and in some cases demonstrate, links between specific infant and preschool measures of cognitive development. We strongly encourage collaborations with developmental cognitive neuroscientists to facilitate these research goals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / administration & dosage
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / pharmacology
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Visual Acuity / drug effects*
  • Visual Acuity / physiology


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids