Fish Oil and IQ

March 19, 2009 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

Let’s face it, we are all affected both positively and negatively by the genes we inherit. Intelligence and overall brain function are no exceptions to this rule. But there are things that parents can do to help encourage optimal brain development in their kids. Today I’m going to focus on one simple strategy that can help ensure that nutrition plays a constructive role in shaping the minds of this and future generations.

It’s not always easy to get young folks to eat more fish. But it’s vitally important that they do. Modern science is proving, time and time again, that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish can help support the proper growth and function of young and nutritionally impressionable minds. I know that some of you are probably thinking that no matter how healthy fish is, your kids will never actually eat it. Fortunately, the natural health community has taken this issue to task and actually formulated good tasting fish oil supplements. Really!

Working Memory

Nothing Fishy About It

New research published in the March issue of Acta Paediatrica examined the cognitive effects of regular fish consumption on a group of nearly 4,000 fifteen year old males. The researchers scrutinized 3 years worth of food frequency questionnaires and performed intelligence tests once the boys reached the age of 18. Here’s what the Swedish researchers discovered:

  • 58% of the young men had fish once a week. 20% ate fish more than once weekly.
  • The teens that ate fish more than once a week scored 12% higher in “combined intelligence scores” (encompassing combined, verbal and visuospatial intelligence) – as compared to those that ate less than 1 serving of fish per week.
  • Verbal intelligence was shown to be 9% higher in the frequent fish eaters. Those eating one serving a week also benefited by scoring 4% higher.
  • The visuospatial scores yielded 11% higher marks for those that ate the most fish. Those consuming one serving per week found a more modest improvement of 7%. Visuospatial intelligence relates to the brains ability to utilize visual perception of spatial relationships. One example of this would be the ability to put together a jigsaw puzzle.
  • The level of education of the participants didn’t appear to impact the results.

Dr. Maria Aberg of the Center for Brain Repair and Rehabilitation at the University of Gothenburg offered these concluding remarks, “Having looked very carefully at the wide range of variables explored by this study it was very clear that there was a significant association between regular fish consumption at 15 and improved cognitive performance at 18.”

Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Teenagers aren’t the only ones who can benefit from getting their fair share of fish/fish oil. A study published in 2007 demonstrated a connection between infant formula supplemented with fish oil and brain and visual functioning in young children.

The researchers in that study followed up with young children at the age of 4 who had consumed “baby formula” that was fortified with DHA (a fatty acid in fish oil) and ARA (a non-fish fatty acid). The babies who were fed the fatty acid combination fared as well, with regard to brain and ocular (eye) health, as similar babies who were breast fed. Babies who were given regular infant formula without the added healthy fats were found to suffer in the cognitive and visual parameters tested.

The authors of this study, which appeared in the journal Early Human Development, summarized their findings as follows, “DHA and ARA-supplementation of infant formula supports visual acuity and IQ maturation similar to that of breast-fed infants.”

I’m a firm believer in the power and usefulness of never accepting our fate. I believe we must challenge our physical and psychological shortcomings. Sometimes that means trying to view our situation from a different perspective. But other times, there are tools that can realistically give us an upper hand over our genetic blueprint. I think the key is to be well informed and armed with determination, patience and reasonable expectations.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


Tags: , ,
Posted in Memory, Nutrition, Nutritional Supplements

5 Comments & Updates to “Fish Oil and IQ”

  1. Douglas Says:

    I’m a believer in the many benefits of fish oil. In addition to eating a serving or two of salmon every week, I also take a teaspoon of liquid fish oil once a day with meals. Carlson’s pharmaceutical grade fish oil is the best in my opinion. It doesn’t have the fishy taste (it’s masked by a not-unpleasant lemon flavoring) but has all the pure Omega-3, DHA, and EPA fatty acids your body and brain need. It is somewhat pricey, though the bottle does last awhile.

  2. JP Says:

    Thanks for sharing your observations with us, Douglas!

    Be well!


  3. JP Says:

    Updated 09/23/15:;year=2015;volume=33;issue=4;spage=307;epage=311;aulast=Sebastian

    J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent. 2015 Oct-Dec;33(4):307-11.

    A cross-sectional study to assess the intelligence quotient (IQ) of school going children aged 10-12 years in villages of Mysore district, India with different fluoride levels.

    INTRODUCTION: Besides dental and skeletal fluorosis, excessive fluoride intake can also affect the central nervous system without first causing the physical deformities associated with skeletal fluorosis. With the existence of widespread endemic fluorosis in India, the possible adverse effect of elevated fluoride in drinking water on the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) level of children is a potentially serious public health problem.

    AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: This study assessed the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) of school going children aged 10-12 years in villages of Mysore district with different fluoride levels.

    MATERIALS AND METHODS: In this cross-sectional study, 405 school children aged 10-12 years were selected from three villages in Mysore district with normal fluoride (1.20 mg F/l), low fluoride (0.40 mg F/l) and high fluoride (2.20 mg F/l) in their water supplies. A pre designed questionnaire was used to collect the required data for the survey which included socio demographic details, oral hygiene practices, diet history, body mass index and dental fluorosis. Intelligence Quotient was assessed using Raven’s colored Progressive Matrices Test.

    RESULTS: In bivariate analysis, significant relationships were found between water fluoride levels and Intelligence Quotient of school children (P < 0.05). In the high fluoride village, the proportion of children with IQ below 90, i.e. below average IQ was larger compared to normal and low fluoride village. Age, gender, parent education level and family income had no significant association with IQ. CONCLUSION: School children residing in area with higher than normal water fluoride level demonstrated more impaired development of intelligence when compared to school children residing in areas with normal and low water fluoride levels. Thus, children's intelligence can be affected by high water fluoride levels. Be well! JP

  4. JP Says:

    Updated 09/23/15:

    Nutrients. 2015 Aug 7;7(8):6606-27.

    The Long Term Impact of Micronutrient Supplementation during Infancy on Cognition and Executive Function Performance in Pre-School Children.

    Brain growth and development are critically dependent on several micronutrients. During early development cellular activity may be sensitive to micronutrient deficiencies, however the evidence from human studies is equivocal. The objective of this study was to examine the long-term cognitive and social-emotional effects of multiple micronutrient supplementation compared with iron supplementation alone, administered during infancy. This study was a follow-up to an initial randomized, double-blind controlled trial (RCT) in 2010 in which 902 infants, aged 6-17 months, from Lima, Peru, were given daily supplements of either iron (Fe) or multiple micronutrients (MMN) including zinc (451 in each group). The supplementation period for both groups was six months. In 2012, a subsample of 184 children from the original cohort (now aged 36-48 months) was randomly selected to participate in a follow-up trial and was assessed for intelligence, working memory, inhibition, and executive function. The tests showed no significant differences between the supplementation groups though there were some gender differences, with girls displaying higher scores than boys across both groups on the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI) Verbal IQ sentences subtest, the Day-Night cognitive test and on the Brief Infant-Toddler Social Emotional Assessment (BITSEA) social competency, and boys scoring higher than girls in problem behaviour. The results indicate that MMN supplementation had no long term additional effects on cognitive function compared with iron supplementation alone. The timing of supplement administration for maximum impact on a child’s cognitive development requires further investigation.

    Be well!


  5. JP Says:

    Updated 09/23/15:

    Nutrition. 2015 Jul-Aug;31(7-8):935-40.

    Protective effects of dietary supplementation with natural ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on the visual acuity of school-age children with lower IQ or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

    OBJECTIVE: Little attention has been paid to the possible protective role of ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) on the visual acuity of school-age children with lower IQs or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of dietary ω-3 PUFAs on the visual acuity and red blood cell (RBC) fatty acid compositions of these children.

    METHODS: We randomly assigned 179 children with lower IQs or ADHD to receive ordinary eggs (control group, n = 90) or eggs rich in C18:3 ω-3, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5 ω-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6 ω-3) for 3 mo (study group, n = 89). Before and after the intervention, distance visual acuity was tested using an E chart and the RBC fatty acid composition was determined using capillary gas chromatography.

    RESULTS: Three months later, 171 children completed the follow-up with the exception of 8 children who were unavailable during follow-up. Both groups of children showed a significant improvement in visual acuity (P < 0.05), however, visual acuity in the study group was significantly better than that of the control group (P = 0.013). The C18:3 ω-3 (P = 0.009), DHA (P = 0.009) and ∑ω-3 (P = 0.022) levels of the intervention group were significantly higher than those of the control group, while the C20:4 ω-6 (P = 0.003), C22:4 ω-6 (P = 0.000), ∑ω-6 (P = 0.001), ∑ω-6/∑ω-3 (P = 0.000) and arachidonic acid/DHA (P = 0.000) of the study group were significantly lower than those of the control group. No significant differences in the levels of C18:2 ω-6 (P = 0.723), C20:2 ω-6 (P = 0.249), C20:3 ω-6 (P = 0.258), C20:5 ω-3 (P = 0.051), or C22:5 (P = 0.200) were found between the two groups. CONCLUSIONS: Dietary supplementation with ω-3 PUFAs improves both visual acuity and the RBC fatty acid profile in school-age children with lower IQs or ADHD. Be well! JP

Leave a Comment