COMPARATIVE STUDY
JOURNAL ARTICLE
RANDOMIZED CONTROLLED TRIAL

Effects of iron and n-3 fatty acid supplementation, alone and in combination, on cognition in school children: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled intervention in South Africa

Jeannine Baumgartner, Cornelius M Smuts, Linda Malan, Jane Kvalsvig, Martha E van Stuijvenberg, Richard F Hurrell, Michael B Zimmermann
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2012, 96 (6): 1327-38
23097272

BACKGROUND: Little is known about the combined effects of iron and n-3 (omega-3) fatty acid (FA) supplementation on cognitive performance. The provision of either DHA/EPA or iron alone in rats with combined iron and n-3 FA deficiency has been reported to exacerbate cognitive deficits associated with deficiency.

OBJECTIVE: We investigated the effects of iron and DHA/EPA supplementation, alone and in combination, in children with poor iron and n-3 FA status.

DESIGN: In a 2-by-2 factorial trial, children with iron deficiency (ID) (n = 321; aged 6-11 y) were allocated to receive 1) iron (50 mg) plus DHA/EPA (420/80 mg), 2) iron plus placebo, 3) placebo plus a mixture of DHA and EPA (DHA/EPA), or 4) placebo plus placebo as oral supplements (4/wk) for 8.5 mo. Cognition was assessed at baseline and endpoint by using the Hopkins Verbal Learning Test (HVLT) and subscales of the Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children.

RESULTS: Both iron and DHA/EPA significantly increased weight-for-age z scores. Iron increased the number of words recalled at HVLT recall 2 (intervention effect: 0.90; 95% CI: 0.18, 1.62), and in anemic children, iron increased scores in the Atlantis Delayed test (1.51; 95% CI: 0.03, 2.99) and HVLT recall 2 (2.02; 95% CI: 0.55, 3.49). DHA/EPA showed no benefit in any of the cognitive tests but decreased Atlantis test scores (-2.48; 95% CI: -3.99, -0.96) in children who were anemic at baseline and decreased Atlantis delayed scores (-0.9; 95% CI: -1.45, -0.36) in girls with ID, whereas boys tended to perform better.

CONCLUSIONS: In children with poor iron and n-3 FA status, iron supplementation improved verbal and nonverbal learning and memory, particularly in children with anemia. In contrast, DHA/EPA supplementation had no benefits on cognition and impaired working memory in anemic children and long-term memory and retrieval in girls with ID.

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