The role of marine omega-3 in human neurodevelopment, including Autism Spectrum Disorders and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder - a review

Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2020;60(9):1431-1446. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2019.1573800. Epub 2019 Mar 18.


Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are two increasingly prevalent neurodevelopmental disorders. This rise may be associated with a higher dietary intake of n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and lower of n-3 PUFAs. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a key nutritional n-3 PUFA, is crucial for an optimal offspring's neurodevelopment through the last trimester of pregnancy. Recently, lower DHA levels have been reported in children with ASD and ADHD. The present review summarizes the main research achievements concerning the effect of DHA in children neurodevelopment, in order to elicit its role in the prevention and mitigation of ASD and ADHD. As main finding, a low DHA supply seems to negatively affect childhood neurodevelopment in specific conditions and increase the risk and the severity of ASD or ADHD. Higher DHA status at birth was associated with better childhood neurodevelopmental, but controversial results found in prenatal supplementation raised the hypothesis that the benefits of DHA may be influenced by other factors as socio-economic background and life-style. In conclusion, an optimal DHA provision through maternal diet or breastfeed may promote some neuronal protection in specific offspring's populations, suggesting that DHA may act as a modifiable risk factor for ASD and ADHD.

Keywords: Neurodevelopment; docosahexaenoic acid; lactation; maternal seafood intake; n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids; pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / metabolism*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / metabolism*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids