The potential relevance of docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid to the etiopathogenesis of childhood neuropsychiatric disorders

Abstract

Over the last 15 years, considerable interest has been given to the potential role of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) for understanding pathogenesis and treatment of neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders. This review aims to systematically investigate the scientific evidence supporting the hypothesis on the omega-3 PUFAs deficit as a risk factor shared by different pediatric neuropsychiatric disorders. Medline PubMed database was searched for studies examining blood docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) or eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) status in children with neuropsychiatric disorders. Forty-one published manuscripts were compatible with the search criteria. The majority of studies on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism found a significant decrease in DHA levels in patients versus healthy controls. For the other conditions examined—depression, juvenile bipolar disorder, intellectual disabilities, learning difficulties, and eating disorders (EDs)—the literature was too limited to draw any stable conclusions. However, except EDs, findings in these conditions were in line with results from ADHD and autism studies. Results about EPA levels were too inconsistent to conclude that EPA could be associated with any of the conditions examined. Finally, correlational data provided, on one hand, evidence for a negative association between DHA and symptomatology, whereas on the other hand, evidence for a positive association between EPA and emotional well-being. Although the present review underlines the potential involvement of omega-3 PUFAs in the predisposition to childhood neuropsychiatric disorders, more observational and intervention studies across different diagnoses are needed, which should integrate the collection of baseline PUFA levels with their potential genetic and environmental influencing factors.

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Acknowledgements

The authors gratefully acknowledge Prof. Luigi Panza and Marco Pozzi for their kind contribution in developing a better understanding of general chemistry concepts, and Stefania Conte for her contribution in a previous draft of this work.

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Correspondence to Alessandro Crippa.

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The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: this work was supported by grant from the Italian Ministry of Health (Ricerca Corrente 2015).

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This article is part of the Focused Issue “The role of nutrition in child and adolescent onset mental disorders” of European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

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Tesei, A., Crippa, A., Ceccarelli, S.B. et al. The potential relevance of docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid to the etiopathogenesis of childhood neuropsychiatric disorders. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 26, 1011–1030 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-016-0932-4

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Keywords

  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • ADHD
  • Autism
  • Juvenile bipolar disorder
  • Intellectual disability