Background: Children born preterm are at increased risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). n-3 (ω-3) Combined with n-6 (ω-6) fatty acids including γ-linolenic acid (GLA) may benefit children born preterm showing early signs of ASD. Previous trials have reported that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) promotes cognitive development in preterm neonates and n-3 fatty acids combined with GLA improve attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder.
Objectives: The objectives of the pilot Preemie Tots Trial were 1) to confirm the feasibility of a full-scale trial in toddlers born very preterm and exhibiting ASD symptoms and 2) to explore the effects of supplementation on parent-reported ASD symptoms and related behaviors.
Methods: This was a 90-d randomized, fully blinded, placebo-controlled trial in 31 children 18-38 mo of age who were born at ≤29 wk of gestation. One group was assigned to daily Omega-3-6-9 Junior (Nordic Naturals, Inc.) treatment (including 338 mg eicosapentaenoic acid, 225 mg DHA, and 83 mg GLA), and the other group received canola oil (124 mg palmitic acid, 39 mg stearic acid, 513 mg linoleic acid, 225 mg α-linolenic acid, and 1346 mg oleic acid). Mixed-effects regression analyses followed intent-to-treat analysis and explored effects on parent-reported ASD symptoms and related behaviors.
Results: Of 31 children randomly assigned, 28 had complete outcome data. After accounting for baseline scores, those assigned to treatment exhibited a greater reduction in ASD symptoms per the Brief Infant Toddler Social Emotional Assessment ASD scale than did those assigned to placebo (difference in change = - 2.1 points; 95% CI: - 4.1, - 0.2 points; standardized effect size = - 0.71). No other outcome measure reflected a similar magnitude or a significant effect.
Conclusions: This pilot trial confirmed adequate numbers of children enrolled and participated fully in the trial. No safety concerns were noted. It also found clinically-significant improvements in ASD symptoms for children randomly assigned to receive Omega-3-6-9 Junior, but effects were confined to one subscale. A future full-scale trial is warranted given the lack of effective treatments for this population. This trial was registered at www.clinicaltrials.gov as NCT01683565.