The omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are important for brain development and cognitive performance. Because they are semi-essential fatty acids, they must be obtained from food. However, the dietary reference intakes of DHA and EPA have not yet been established. In women, a low DHA and/or EPA serum level during pregnancy or breastfeeding might negatively affect their children. For this study, we conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized control trials on the association between the consumption of fish oil supplements in pregnant and/or breastfeeding women and the cognitive performance of their children.
The PubMed, Embase, and Central literature databases were systematically searched. We included and extracted relevant studies in duplicate and assessed study quality. Cognitive outcomes were grouped according to published criteria and according to time elapsed after the intervention. We performed fixed-effects meta-analyses for each cognitive outcome and for birth weight. We assessed potential confounding with meta-regressions and sensitivity analyses.
A total of 11 trials were included. No significant association was found between DHA/EPA supplementation and any of the assessed cognitive parameters or birth weight.
Our results confirm previous reviews on the studied topic. Reasons for inconclusive results may be small sample sizes for each assessed category, questionable quality of included studies, and the difficulty of reliably measuring cognitive performance in small children. Blood levels of omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids were mostly not comparable. Furthermore, the influence of genetic and environmental factors could not be assessed. Studies in this field should address such shortcomings