Autism spectrum disorders are a neurodevelopmental disorders with reduced cortical functional connectivity relating to social cognition. Polyunsaturated fatty acids arachidonic acid (ARA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may have key role in brain network maturation. In particularly, ARA is important in signal transduction related to neuronal maturation. Supplementation with larger ARA doses added to DHA may therefore mitigate social impairment.

In a 16-week, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, we evaluated the efficacy of supplementation with large doses of ARA added to DHA (n = 7) or placebo (n = 6) in 13 participants (mean age, 14.6 [SD, 5.9] years). To examine underlying mechanisms underlying the effect of our supplementation regimen, we examined plasma levels of antioxidants transferrin and superoxide dismutase, which are useful markers of signal transduction. The outcome measures were the Social Responsiveness Scale and the Aberrant Behavior Checklist-Community. Repeated-measures analysis of variance revealed that our supplementation regimen significantly improved Aberrant Behavior Checklist-Community-measured social withdrawal and Social Responsiveness Scale-measured communication.

Treatment effect sizes were more favorable for the treatment group compared with the placebo group (communication: treatment groups, 0.87 vs, placebo, 0.44; social withdrawal: treatment groups, 0.88, vs placebo, 0.54). There was a significant difference in the change in plasma transferrin levels and a trend toward a significant difference in the change in plasma superoxide dismutase levels between the 2 groups.

This preliminary study suggests that supplementation with larger ARA doses added to DHA improves impaired social interaction in individuals with autism spectrum disorder by up-regulating signal transduction.