Systematic review finds limited evidence for the use of omega-3 fatty acids in autism spectrum disorders


Previous research has highlighted that people with autism spectrum disorders may be deficit in omega-3 fatty acids and that taking supplements may help to improve the symptoms of the condition.

This new Cochrane systematic review set out to review the efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids for improving core features of autism spectrum disorder (e.g. social interaction, communication, stereotypies and associated symptoms).

The reviewers carried out a reliable Cochrane literature search, but only found two randomised controlled trials of omega-3 fatty acids supplementation compared to placebo in individuals with autism spectrum disorders. The trials were both small pilot studies, with a total of 40 children (37 male). Patients were given the supplementation over 6 to 12 weeks.

Here’s what they found:

  • No statistically significant improvements were observed for social interaction, communication, stereotypy or hyperactivity
  • The largest treatment effect was reported for hyperactivity and in one study changes in hyperactivity were correlated with changes in certain fatty acids levels
  • No serious side effects were reported for the omega-3 treatment

These small pilot studies do not provide a definitive answer about the effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acids supplementation, but they do prepare the way for larger rigorous studies (some of which are already complete).

Around 30% of children with autism spectrum disorders take omega-3 fatty acids, so the safety and efficacy of these supplements needs to be determined.

James S, Montgomery P, Williams K. Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 11. Art. No.: CD007992. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007992.pub2.

Share on Facebook Tweet this on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Google+