Dr. Protzko and his colleagues have developed what they call the "Database of Raising Intelligence" or DORI. The DORI is a collection of every randomized controlled trial designed to measure the effect of interventions of any kind on raising intelligence.
To be included in the database a study has to meet the following criteria: The subjects must be healthy individuals drawn from the general population; the study needs to be a randomized controlled trial; and a standardized measure of intelligence must be used to measure intelligence. And, finally, the database is continuously updated, which means that any time a new study is published that meets the criteria, those data are added to the database.
Having a database like this is valuable, because it allows the authors to conduct a meta-analysis of data from several clinical trials any time they want to assess the effectiveness of a particular intervention on raising intelligence.
So, with that as background, let's look at the portion of the study that assessed the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on raising intelligence.
There were 10 studies with 884 participants that met the criteria for inclusion in the meta-analysis. In 6 of those studies the diets of breast feeding mothers were supplemented with 1,000 mg of DHA/day for periods ranging from the first 4-9 months of the infant's life. In 4 of the studies infant formula was supplemented with 0.2% to 0.5% long chain omega-3 fatty acids (primarily DHA) for the first 4-12 months of the infant's life. By combining all 10 studies, the authors were able to show fairly convincingly that extra DHA and other long chain omega-3 fatty acids during the first 4-12 months of an infants life increased their IQ by 3.5 points when it was measured several years latter.
So maybe "Fish for Brains" is an appropriate title for this e-newsletter. But if you are a young mom or mom-to-be, what does this study mean to you?
1) On the negative side, even though this was a meta- analysis, the numbers are fairly modest. Even more to the point, the gain in intelligence was fairly modest. A gain of 3.5 points on the IQ scale is not going to turn your child into an Einstein!
2) On the positive side a number of other studies suggest that supplementation with DHA and other long chain omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and infancy may improve mood and reduce the likelihood of the child developing ADD, ADHD and autism. So there are many reasons for making sure that your child's brain is nourished with adequate levels of long chain omega-3 fatty acids.
3) And, long chain omega-3 fatty acids are not the only thing that you can do to positively affect your child's intelligence. The same manuscript (J Protzko et al, Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8: 25-40, 3013) also used the same DORI database to evaluate a number of other interventions that can increase your child's intelligence.
And several other interventions also showed positive results. Reading to your child in an interactive fashion (asking them open-ended questions about what you have read to them, tailoring the reading to their interests, etc) raises their IQ by 6 points. And preschool education can raise their IQ by 7 points.
If you were to combine all of the interventions that have been shown to work, you could potentially increase your child's IQ by 16.5 points. Now we are starting to talk about IQ increases that could make a difference!
4) My only concern in sharing this information with you is that I may have set the bar too high. There are no perfect parents. There are no perfect children. None of us attain perfection in this life. So just do the best that you can do, and rest assured that it is enough.
To Your Health!
Dr. Stephen G Chaney