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Pregnancy & Omega-3s: A Smart Combination for Baby's Brain

Fish oil in pregnancy boosts children's hand-eye coordination
Pregnancy & Omega-3s: A Smart Combination for Baby's Brain: Main Image
Children who received the prenatal fish oil tended to perform better in all areas of development

Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil have been shown to be helpful for a wide range of conditions, including cardiovascular disease, depression, and arthritis. Now there is more evidence on its importance to growing minds: Pregnant women who take fish oil supplements high in the fatty acid DHA may give birth to children with greater hand-eye coordination.

"During pregnancy, large amounts of DHA and arachidonic acid are deposited in the fetal retina and brain," said Susan L. Prescott, MD, PhD, of the School of Pediatrics and Child Health, University of Western Australia. "These fatty acids, found in fish oil, seem to be critical for normal nervous system and visual development."

Benefits for babies

The 98 pregnant women in the study were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo or a fish oil supplement providing 2.2 grams of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and 1.1 grams of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), both essential omega-3 fatty acids. They started taking the supplements 20 weeks into their pregnancies and continued until delivery.

Higher amounts of the protective omega-3 fatty acids were transferred to newborns in the group taking fish oil supplements compared to the placebo group. Babies with the highest levels of the omega-3 fatty acids in cord blood had the best hand-eye coordination when assessed at age 2 1/2 years.

Children who received the prenatal fish oil supplementation also tended to perform better in all areas of development studied, including personal, social, speech and hearing, performance, and practical reasoning. They also had higher scores for receptive language, average phrase length, and vocabulary scores. In previous research, infants given fish oil supplements have shown improved visual function.

"Our results indicate that supplementation with a relatively high-dose fish oil during the last 20 weeks of pregnancy is not only safe but also seems to have potential beneficial effects that need to be explored further," said Professor Prescott.

How to get more omega-3s

Besides taking fish oil supplements, you can also get more omega-3 fatty acids from your diet. Try these food sources and recipes for some tasty options:

(Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. doi:10.1136/adc.2006.099085)

Jeremy Appleton, ND, CNS, is a licensed naturopathic physician, certified nutrition specialist, and published author. Dr. Appleton was the Nutrition Department Chair at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, has served on the faculty at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, and is a former Healthnotes Senior Science Editor and a founding contributor to Healthnotes Newswire. He has worked extensively in scientific and regulatory affairs in the supplement industry and is now a consultant through his company Praxis Natural Products Consulting and Wellness Services.
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