European Journal of Pediatrics

, Volume 169, Issue 2, pp 149–164 | Cite as

Significance of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) for the development and behaviour of children

  • Jan Philipp Schuchardt
  • Michael Huss
  • Manuela Stauss-Grabo
  • Andreas Hahn


ω-6 and ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) play a central role in the normal development and functioning of the brain and central nervous system. Long-chain PUFAs (LC-PUFAs) such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, C20:5ω-3), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6ω-3) and arachidonic acid (AA, C20:4ω-6), in particular, are involved in numerous neuronal processes, ranging from effects on membrane fluidity to gene expression regulation. Deficiencies and imbalances of these nutrients, not only during the developmental phase but throughout the whole life span, have significant effects on brain function. Numerous observational studies have shown a link between childhood developmental disorders and ω-6:ω-3 fatty acid imbalances. For instance, neurocognitive disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism spectrum disorders are often associated with a relative lack of ω-3 fatty acids. In addition to a high ω-6 fatty acid intake and, in many cases, an insufficient supply of ω-3 fatty acids among the population, evidence is increasing to suggest that PUFA metabolism can be impaired in individuals with ADHD. In this context, PUFA imbalances are being discussed as potential risk factors for neurodevelopmental disorders. Another focus is whether the nutritive PUFA requirements—especially long-chain ω-3 fatty acid requirements—are higher among some individuals. Meanwhile, several controlled studies investigated the clinical benefits of LC-PUFA supplementation in affected children and adolescents, with occasionally conflicting results.


Omega-3 fatty acids EPA DHA Fatty acid metabolism Childhood developmental disorders Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) 



Aberrant Behaviour Checklist




Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition


Child Behaviour Checklist


Children’s Depression Inventory


Children’s Depression Rating Scale


Clinical Global Impression


Conners’ Teacher Rating Scales, Long Version


Fatty acid desaturase




Phospholipase A2


Polyunsaturated fatty acids


Intermediate Visual and Auditory/Continuous Performance Test


Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids


Test of Variables of Attention



JP Schuchardt, A Hahn and M Huss work as consultants for companies which also produce and merchandise fatty acid supplements. The contents of this publication do not mention trade names or commercial products. The costs of publication of this article were neither defrayed by any fish-oil-producing- or merchandising- nor by any other company.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jan Philipp Schuchardt
    • 1
  • Michael Huss
    • 2
  • Manuela Stauss-Grabo
    • 3
  • Andreas Hahn
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Food Science, Nutrition physiology and human nutrition unitLeibniz University of HanoverHanoverGermany
  2. 2.Department for Child and Adolescent PsychiatryJohannes Gutenberg-UniversityMainzGermany
  3. 3.Engelhard Arzneimittel GmbH & Co.KGNiederdorfeldenGermany

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