Cognitive functions in protein-energy malnutrition: in relation to long chain-polyunsaturated fatty acids

Pak J Biol Sci. 2007 Jun 1;10(11):1773-81. doi: 10.3923/pjbs.2007.1773.1781.


Aiming to find out a correlation between plasma LC-PUFA levels and neurodevelopmental status of malnourished infants, the present study was conducted on 42 infants suffering from PEM, with a mean age of 11.28 +/- 4.59 months. They were divided clinically into edematous and non-edematous groups. Fifteen age and sex matched well nourished apparently healthy infants were chosen to serve as controls. All patients were subjected to a 3-phase workup, while controls were subjected only to phase 1. Phase I: includes clinical assessment, laboratory investigations including plasma LC-PUFA levels and Neurodevelopmental assessment. In Phase II: An interventional program of 8 weeks duration; where all patients were receiving an initial supportive treatment followed by nutritional rehabilitation according to WHO guidelines, 1999 as well as developmental stimulation. According to the formula supplied to patients, they were randomly divided into either PUFA supplemented (+ve group) or nonBsupplemented (-ve group). In Phase III: All patients were re-assessed clinically and neurodevelopmentaly as well as re-evaluation for plasma LC-PUFA levels. The study revealed that, the mean plasma AA and DHA levels as well as the mean MDI and PDI scores of BSID-II were significantly lower in PEM patients compared to those levels after nutritional rehabilitation and to controls. Moreover, the mean MDI score was significantly lower in edematous subgroup compared to non-edematous one. Meanwhile, the mean rate of change in plasma DHA level was significantly higher in edematous subgroup compared to non-edematous one. However, there was no significant difference in the mean of rate of change in AA level or MDI and PDI scores between the 2 subgroups. Further, the mean rate of change in plasma AA and DHA levels as well as MDI score were significantly higher in PUFA +ve patients compared to PUFA Bve ones after nutritional rehabilitation. Finally, the study showed significant positive correlations between plasma AA and DHA levels and both MDI and PDI scores. From the course of this study we concluded that malnourished infants had impaired neurodevelopmental functions that could be related to the poor status of plasma LC-PUF. Thus, we recommend early intervention including nutritional rehabilitation and LC-PUFA supplementation as well as stimulation program, so as to have a better effect on future cognitive abilities of these infants.

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / blood*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / psychology*
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / rehabilitation


  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated