A Systematic Review of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Consumption and Cognitive Outcomes in Neurodevelopment

This systematic review addresses the effects of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids consumption on human neurodevelopment.

It evaluates articles published between 2000 and 2022, investigating the cognitive outcomes during the period of neurodevelopment: from fetal development to adolescence.

For the purpose of this review, the terms LC PUFA and omega-3 fatty acid will be used interchangeably.


Data were sourced from several major databases including PubMed (MEDLINE), Web of Science, and ProQuest Central.

Randomized controlled trials (RCTs), nonrandomized controlled trials, prospective or retrospective cohort studies, and observational studies investigating the effects of omega-3 fatty acid consumption from dietary supplements, multiple-nutrient supplement, or food questionnaire on neurodevelopment were considered.

Study population was separated in three developmental phases:

  1. in-utero
  2. lactation/infancy
  3. childhood/adolescence

Each article was evaluated for several key factors such as study type, type/dosage of PUFAs, number of subjects, length of intervention, participant age range, population characteristics, outcome measure (both primary/cognitive and secondary/other), results, conclusion, and confounding variables/limitations.


A total of 88 articles were included in the review: 69 RCTs and 19 longitudinal or observational studies.

The results indicate equivocal effect of intervention, with some short-term benefits observed in the areas of visual attention, working memory, executive function, and communication.

Omega-3 supplement might have a short-term positive impact on neurodevelopment in all three phases.

Supplementation is recommended throughout life, rather than only during the earliest developmental stage.