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Fish Oil Linked to Higher IQs in Kids
Omega-3 fish oil, good preschool, and reading with parents were the 3 factors credibly linked to higher IQs

Controversy over the value of intelligence quotient (IQ) tests continues.
They can't capture the myriad kinds of human “intelligence”, each with its wonders.
But IQ tests can help gauge a kid's likelihood of success in our highly verbal world.
Do kids who enjoy get more omega-3 fish fat than most gain an edge in verbal intelligence?
Though the evidence is mixed, most clinical and epidemiological studies support a “yes” answer to that question See our Healthy Mom & Baby page).
And omega-3s' key role in human brains backs the idea of developmental intelligence benefits from diets rich in these fish fats.
Comparisons between kids taking the same IQ tests suggest that diets higher than average in omega-3 fish fat – especially DHA – can provide substantial IQ, attention, and behavior benefits.
Perhaps even more importantly, marine-source omega-3 DHA may help prevent avoidable attention or intelligence deficits.
NYU evidence review links fish oil to higher IQ in young kids
A novel database built at New York University (NYU) allowed neuropsychologists there to look for diet, social, or other factors linked to higher scores on verbal IQ tests (Protzko J et al. 2013).
The NYU team's analysis linked three factors to higher IQ scores: routine consumption of omega-3 fish oil, enrolling in a good-quality preschool, and having parents engage kids verbally while reading to or with them.
A team led by NYU doctoral student John Protzko performed a “meta-analysis” in which they combined the findings from existing studies.
Together with NYU professors Joshua Aronson and Clancy Blair – two leaders in the field of intelligence assessment – Protzko analyzed the best available studies.
All of the studies in their review met four key criteria:
  • Participants were normal, healthy children.
  • IQ was assessed using widely accepted measures of intelligence.
  • The interventions (fish oil, school, reading, etc.) were tested over a significant time.
  • All studies were controlled clinical trials, with participants selected at random to receive one of the interventions.
Overall, the results indicated that three factors can help raise a child's IQ:
  1. Giving pregnant women and newborns omega-3 fish oil boosted children's IQ by more than 3.5 points.
  2. Enrolling an economically disadvantaged child into an early education program raised his or her IQ by more than four points; programs with a language focus raised a child's IQ by more than seven points.
  3. Interactive reading – in which parents engage their children while reading with them – was linked to an IQ score over six points higher than the control group. Interactive reading did not measurably help children over four years old.
The idea that omega-3s exert positive effects on kids' IQs makes sense from a biological standpoint.
Long-chain omega-3s from fish – especially DHA – are essential to brain/nerve cell structure and functions … and the body cannot easily produce DHA from plant sources of short-chain omega-3s.
As Mr. Protzko said, “Overall, identifying the link between essential fatty acids and intelligence gives rise to tantalizing new questions for future research and we look forward to exploring this finding.”
The NYU team could not find enough high-quality research to tell whether other nutritional supplements – including iron, B-complex vitamins, riboflavin, thiamine, niacin, and zinc – are linked to higher child IQs.
  • Birch EE, Garfield S, Castañeda Y, Hughbanks-Wheaton D, Uauy R, Hoffman D. Visual acuity and cognitive outcomes at 4 years of age in a double-blind, randomized trial of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid-supplemented infant formula. Early Hum Dev. 2007 May;83(5):279-84. Epub 2007 Jan 18.
  • Cohen JT, Bellinger DC, Connor WE, Shaywitz BA. A quantitative analysis of prenatal intake of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and cognitive development. Am J Prev Med. 2005 Nov;29(4):366-74.
  • Gale CR, Marriott LD, Martyn CN, Limond J, Inskip HM, Godfrey KM, Law CM, Cooper C, West C, Robinson SM; Group for Southampton Women's Survey Study. Breastfeeding, the use of docosahexaenoic acid-fortified formulas in infancy and neuropsychological function in childhood. Arch Dis Child. 2010 Mar;95(3):174-9. doi: 10.1136/adc.2009.165050. Epub 2010 Feb 4.
  • Gale CR, Robinson SM, Godfrey KM, Law CM, Schlotz W, O'Callaghan FJ. Oily fish intake during pregnancy--association with lower hyperactivity but not with higher full-scale IQ in offspring. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2008 Oct;49(10):1061-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2008.01908.x. Epub 2008 Apr 15.
  • Helland IB, Smith L, Blomén B, Saarem K, Saugstad OD, Drevon CA. Effect of supplementing pregnant and lactating mothers with n-3 very-long-chain fatty acids on children's IQ and body mass index at 7 years of age. Pediatrics. 2008 Aug;122(2):e472-9. doi: 10.1542/peds.2007-2762.
  • Hibbeln JR, Davis JM, Steer C, Emmett P, Rogers I, Williams C, Golding J. Maternal seafood consumption in pregnancy and neurodevelopmental outcomes in childhood (ALSPAC study): an observational cohort study. Lancet. 2007 Feb 17;369(9561):578-85.
  • Isaacs EB, Ross S, Kennedy K, Weaver LT, Lucas A, Fewtrell MS. 10-year cognition in preterms after random assignment to fatty acid supplementation in infancy. Pediatrics. 2011 Oct;128(4):e890-8. doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-3153. Epub 2011 Sep 19.
  • New York University (NYU). With New Intelligence Database, NYU Steinhardt Researchers Show Diet, Parental Behavior and Preschool Can Boost Children's IQ. January 25, 2013. Accessed at
  • Protzko J, AronsonJ, Blair C. How to Make a Young Child Smarter: Evidence From the Database of Raising Intelligence. Perspectives on Psychological Science. Published online ahead of print. doi: 10.1177/1745691612462585.Accessed at

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