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Fatty Acid Supplement Improves Vision Function in Preterm Infants

Fatty Acid Supplement Improves Vision Function in Preterm Infants

August 28, 2023

A study conducted at the University of Gothenburg has revealed that preterm babies who received a supplement containing a blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids demonstrated improved vision function by the age of two and a half.

This study, featured in The Lancet Regional Health—Europe, included a cohort of 178 extremely preterm infants born before the 28th week of pregnancy. These infants were drawn from neonatal units within the university hospitals of Gothenburg, Lund, and Stockholm, during the period spanning 2016 to 2019.

Approximately fifty percent of the children participating in the study were administered oral nutritional supplements with a preventive formulation that included the omega-6 fatty acid AA (arachidonic acid) and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Notably, these specific fatty acids, AA and DHA, are not presently part of the standard supplement regimen routinely provided to extremely preterm babies immediately following birth.

Prior research by the same team had already indicated that the combined supplementation substantially reduced the risk of the sight-threatening eye condition known as retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). In this current investigation, the focus shifted to assessing the visual development of the children at the age of two and a half years, accounting for their corrected age based on the estimated date of birth.

Advancing Brain's Visual Interpretation Abilities

Pia Lundgren, an associate professor specializing in pediatric eye research at the Sahlgrenska Academy of the University of Gothenburg, and a chief physician at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, serves as the primary author of the study.

"The study shows that children who have received the combination supplement had improved visual function, regardless of whether or not they had previously had ROP," she notes. "The improved visual development was thus not only due to the beneficial effect on the retina. The supplement also seems to have improved the brain's ability to interpret visual impressions."

The issue of nutrition and supplementation for extremely preterm infants is a notably relevant concern in neonatal care across numerous regions globally. Presently, Sweden lacks precise directives for dispensing fatty acid supplements to these extremely preterm infants; however, the existing guidelines are undergoing revision, partly influenced by the present study's findings.

"Importantly, we can now demonstrate the positive effects that the combination supplement appears to have on visual development when the child is older," Pia adds. "In the continued studies—on the same group of children—we will also look more closely at cognitive and neurological development, which will be particularly interesting."


Pia Lundgren et al, Visual outcome at 2.5 years of age in ω-3 and ω-6 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplemented preterm infants: a follow-up of a randomized controlled trial, The Lancet Regional Health—Europe (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.lanepe.2023.100696