The influence of DHA on language development: A review of randomized controlled trials of DHA supplementation in pregnancy, the neonatal period, and infancy

Nicola R. Gawlik, Amanda J. Anderson, Maria Makrides, Lisa Kettler, Jacqueline F. Gould

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


This review summarizes randomized controlled trials (RCTs) assessing the effect of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation in the first 1000 days on child language. Six databases were searched and RCTs were included if they involved supplementation with DHA during pregnancy, to preterm infants, or during the postpartum period, included a placebo group with less or no DHA, and reported a language outcome. We included 29 RCTs involving n = 10,405 participants from 49 publications. There was a total of 84 language measures at ages ranging from 3 months to 12 years. Of the 84 assessments, there were 4 instances where the DHA group had improved scores, and 2 instances where the DHA group had worse scores (with the majority of these significant effects found within one RCT). The remaining comparisons were null. A few RCTs that included subgroup analyses reported (inconsistent) effects. There was limited evidence that DHA supplementation had any effect on language development, although there were some rare instances of both possible positive and adverse effects, particularly within population subgroups. It is important that any subgroup effects are verified in future trials that are adequately powered to confirm such effects.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3106
Pages (from-to)1-31
Number of pages31
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished or Issued - Oct 2020


  • DHA
  • Infant
  • Language
  • Neonatal
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Postnatal
  • Prenatal
  • Speech
  • Supplementation
  • Verbal abilities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

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