Inclusion of DHA in ready-to-eat therapeutic foods may support cognition in malnourished children, says recent study

Wiley Companies announced that its DHA-rich AlaskOmega fish oil was used in the triple-blind, randomized controlled clinical feeding trial evaluating the effects of polyunsaturated fatty acid composition in ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) on neurocognitive recovery in children with severe acute malnutrition.

Wiley Companies (Coshocton, OH) announced that its DHA-rich AlaskOmega fish oil was used in a triple-blind, randomized controlled clinical feeding trial evaluating the effects of polyunsaturated fatty acid composition in ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) on neurocognitive recovery in children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM). In the study, 2,565 Malawian children with uncomplicated SAM were given either standard RUTF, a RUTF with reduced amounts of linoleic acid using high oleic (HO) peanuts without added DHA (HO-RUTF) or with added DHA (DHA-HO-RUTF).

The primary outcomes measured by researchers were the Malawi Developmental Assessment Tool (MDAT) global z-score and a modified Willatts problem solving assessment (PSA) intention score for 3 standardized problems, measured at six months and immediately after completely RUTF therapy, respectively. Results showed that children taking DHA-HO-RUTF saw higher gross motor and social domain z-scores compared to standard RUTF, while PSA problem 3 scores did not differ between groups. Examples of gross motor skills include unassisted walking, hopping, or tossing a ball, and social skills include intentional pointing or drinking from a cup.

While peanut-based, vegetable-oil rich RUTFs can support anthropometric/muscle growth and development, this study shows that they do not support neurocognitive recovery in malnourished children. The inclusion of DHA, which is crucial for brain development, should therefore be explored in this setting.

"Our study shows that balanced fats and including omega-3 DHA is important for long term mental development in the 16 million children who suffer annually from severe acute malnutrition,” stated Tom Brenna, PhD, co-senior study author and Professor of Pediatrics at the Dell Pediatric Research Institute, University of Texas at Austin, in a press release. “As importantly, this study highlights the central role of nutrition specifically for brain development in all children.”

“We were thrilled to participate in this important project and contribute to research demonstrating the life-altering benefits of omega-3 nutrition on cognitive development,” said Gretchen Vannice, director of Nutrition Education and Research at Wiley Companies.

Reference

Stephenson K et al. “Low linoleic acid foods with added DHA given to Malawian children with severe acute malnutrition improve cognition: a randomized, triple blinded, controlled clinical trial.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Published online ahead of print on November 2, 2021