Sorry Moms: Prenatal Vitamins With DHA Won’t Increase Your Kids’ IQ After All

Researchers have bad news for moms who used DHA supplements during pregnancy in hopes of stimulating their baby’s brain:

It did not work.

By the age of 7, children whose mothers took DHA did not score higher on an IQ test than children whose mothers swallowed capsules without DHA.

The results are the most recent results from a study evaluating the benefits – if any – of giving DHA to babies in utero. They appear in the Tuesday edition of the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

DHA, abbreviation of docosahexaenoic acid, is an omega-3 fatty acid that plays a key role in brain health. It is essential throughout our lives, and especially during infancy when the brain, eyes and nervous system are developing.

DHA is a natural component of breast milk and the manufacturers add it to formula. So it was probably only a matter of time before it took off as a component of prenatal vitamins.

But does it work?

To find out, Australian researchers recruited 2,399 pregnant women to participate in a randomized clinical trial. Some women were given capsules containing 800 milligrams of DHA per day. Others were given a placebo containing vegetable oil instead. The women did not know which group they belonged to.

That was in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Now the oldest children in the study have turned 7, making them eligible to take an IQ test.

The test – the Wechsler’s Short Scale of Intelligence, Second Edition – was given to 259 infants whose mothers took DHA during pregnancy and to 284 infants whose mothers received placebo. An “average” test score is 100; the minimum score to qualify as “gifted” is generally 130.

Overall, neither group came close to this mark. The mean score for children in the DHA group was 98.31, compared with an average score of 97.32 for children in the placebo group, according to the JAMA report. This difference was not large enough to be considered statistically significant.

Breaking it down, children in both groups got the same results for “language, school functioning, and executive functioning,” the researchers wrote. The only exception was perceptual reasoning – children who received DHA scored “slightly higher” than children who received placebo.

However, questionnaires completed by parents revealed that DHA children had more behavior problems than their counterparts. Children in the DHA group also had higher scores for executive dysfunction, according to the study.

This isn’t the first time researchers have looked at children and seen DHA fail.

When the children were 18 months old, the researchers assessed their “cognitive, language and motor development” and found no difference between the groups, they wrote.

Then, when the children were 4 years old, the researchers saw no signs that those in the DHA group had an advantage in general intelligence, executive functioning, or language compared to the children in the placebo group.

With the first IQ results in hand, researchers now say they have “strong evidence for the lack of benefit from prenatal DHA supplementation.”

The study was funded by Australia National Council for Health and Medical Research. The pills used in the trial were provided by Croda chemicals, whose product line includes DHA supplements.

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