January 23, 2006
Fish Consumption By Mom Makes Babies Smarter?

Yet another study provides evidence for the hypothesis that higher omega 3 fatty acid consumption raises IQs in babies.

Perhaps the most startling finding was that the children of those women who had consumed the smallest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids during their pregnancies had verbal IQs six points lower than average. That may not sound much, but it would have a serious effect on a country's brainpower if it were widespread. And the finding is particularly pertinent because existing dietary advice to pregnant women, at least in America, is that they should limit their consumption of seafood in order to avoid exposing their fetuses to trace amounts of brain-damaging methyl mercury. Ironically, that means they avoid one of the richest sources of omega-3s.

Dr Hibbeln, however, says his work shows that the benefits of eating such fish vastly outweigh the risks from the mercury in them. Indeed, in the Avon study, it was those children exposed to the lowest levels of methyl mercury who were at greatest risk of having low verbal IQ.

Higher omega 3 fatty acid consumption was positively correlated with better fine motor performance and negatively correlated with pathological social behavior.

One obvious question: Are smarter women more atune to popular dietary advice and hence more likely to eat fish? That could explain at least part of the results in this study. Maybe the fish eating is just a proxy for having higher IQ genes to pass on to one's children. However, other studies support the argument that omega 3 fatty acid consumption improves brain development and brain performance.

Read the whole article.

Aside: I use a margarine substitute that contains a decent amount of omega 3 fatty acids and no trans fatty acids. Keep an eye out for such products if you want to boost your omega 3 fatty acid consumption but don't want to eat fish all that often.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 January 23 10:07 PM  Brain Development

mariana said at January 24, 2006 12:42 AM:

Could you please name your margarine substitute? How much omega 3 fatty acid should you really get?

Rick said at January 24, 2006 5:00 AM:

I remember growing up when my mother always made me eat fish, she would tell me it was brain food. I find it interesting how studies of today seem to just confirm what people have known all along.

News Lady said at January 24, 2006 8:28 AM:

Or perhaps this is a plot by the fish companies to make us all eat fish :)

Jake said at January 24, 2006 8:58 AM:

I had a nutritionist analyze my diet and recommend changes for me. She really made a big deal about omega-3 fatty acids. Here is what she recommended for foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.

1. salmon
2. herring
3. mackerel
4. trout
5. anchovy and sardines
6. omega-3 fish oil capsules

Other fish with lessor amounts
1. cod
2. haddock
3. canned tuna

Minor sources of omega-3 fatty acids
1. flaxseed oil
2. canola oil
3. soybean oil
4. certain nuts

cccp cruizer said at January 24, 2006 9:02 AM:

It was known long time ago by holistic Drs, just because some MD DR found out that omega fatty 3 acid developing brain , its not a news , just shows how stubborn are all these MD Drs !!

Anthony Kendall said at January 24, 2006 10:04 AM:

Doesn't this study suggest that practically the entire nation of Japan should be above-average IQ? I'm sure that is not true, so I'm more likely to attribute the higher-IQ children to offspring of higher-IQ adults as suggested by Randall.

Engineer-Poet said at January 24, 2006 3:30 PM:

How do shellfish rate on the omega-3 scale?

aa2 said at January 24, 2006 3:47 PM:

Wow big study. I hadn't seen any studies like this but I have been recommending feeding women before they become pregnant, during pregnancy, then through child hood omega fatty acids. This really proves my guess.

Randall Parker said at January 24, 2006 4:12 PM:


Japan does have a national IQ average above 100. However, genetics plays a role too.


I use Smart Balance Light. It has 220 mg omega 3 fatty acids per tablespoon. The tablespoon has only 45 calories. I wish it had even more omega 3. The 45 calories represent about 5 grams of fat. So only 4% of the the fat is omega 3.

Randall Parker said at January 24, 2006 5:37 PM:

BTW, the different fish vary greatly in their relative ratios of omega 3 to other fats. Also, they vary greatly in their ratios of fat to protein.

But the differences are even very large with the same fish depending on how it was canned or otherwise prepared.

You can go into the store Trader Joes and find different kinds of canned salmon that literally differ by more than an order of magnitude in their percentage of fats to total content in the can. So you can get .5 grams or 4.5 or 7 grams of fat for the same serving size depending on which can you buy. So pay attention when shopping for canned fish and frozen fish and see if they label the stuff with protein and fat per 100 grams or other serving amount.

I think in past posts I've provided some data on the relative omega 3 amounts of different kinds of seafood. You can find additional info googling.

A really short conclusion: Salmon is best. It also has orders of magnitude less mercury than the worst fish types.

Invisible Scientist said at January 24, 2006 6:08 PM:

Molecularly Distilled fish body oil would also be a good source of Omega acids as an alternative to eating fish contaminated with heavy metals. These tablets are available, but you must check that these are Molecularly Distilled. Some companies even make the fish body oil TWICE molecularly distilled.

Also, there are some combined vegetable oil tablets that compensate for the lack of fish oil.

However, choline and many other nutrients are also known to increase the intelligence (in particular the memory) of babies if the pregnant mother includes these in the diet.

Additionally, laboratory experiments showed that even the offspring of those rats which were given oxiracetam, also had higher intelligence.

Rob said at January 25, 2006 8:14 AM:

I'm a semi-vegitarian, I only eat things that don't have spines(shrimp, crab). What about flax seed oil. How does that rank?

I'd also like to see if trans-fat makes kids dumber.

MFraternity said at January 25, 2006 7:58 PM:

There seem to be many benefits showing the health benefits of the consumption of Omega-3's, especially for babies of women who ate Omega-3's while pregnant and breastfeeding. I plan to advise any people who are trying to conceive to locate a good source of Omega-3's. Although fish is clearly a good source, eating fish can also be problematic, since fish can also contain contaminants, and many people don't like eating fish.

To me, it seems that the best option for increasing the consumption of Omega-3's in Americans' diets is to popularize fish oil supplements that have been purified and tested to ensure that they are free of contaminants. I don't know how well-regulated the companies that supply these supplements are, but it seems like some companies are responding to the demand for purified Omega-3 supplements. Here are a couple that I have found online (but I am not endorsing them):

1) PBL PreNatal Pure Omega 3


This product look interesting, because it is marketed specifically towards pregnant women as being a purified source of Omega-3's. It also appears to provide a good amount of them in a daily dose. However, they are expensive (seems like a supply would cost around $25 a month). Still, I think that providing pregnant and breasfeeding women with a clean source of omega-3's would be a worthwhile investment.

2) Carlson Labs Fish Oil Supplements:


Carlson Labs offers a variety of Omega-3 supplements, which they claim are tested for purity.

Note, once again, that I'm not endorsing either of these products. I'm just trying to draw attention to the fact that it is critical that Americans have access to a pure source of Omega-3's, and that simply relying on fish is inadequate. Given how polluted our oceans are becoming, I would rather get Omega-3's from a purified supplement than from fish (though I do eat fish occasionally).

Finally, to those considering Omega-3 supplements, I recommend (without any nutritional training) that people use Omega-3 gelcaps rather than liquid Omega-3 (i.e. by the spoon). This is because gelcaps supposedly spoil less easily (liquid Omega-3 supplements should be kept stored in the refrigerator, tightly closed, because I have read that the oils can spoil if exposed to air for too long). Also, you don't have to taste the fish oil if you take it via gelcap (for those who don't like the taste).



AIM SN: MFraternity

Randall Parker said at January 25, 2006 8:26 PM:

Another alternative for omega 3 fatty acids is extracted from seaweed grown in vats. You can find it under the Neuromins name and a number of vitamin companies sell capsules with Neuromins as a trademark on the bottle. Neuromins are DHA only. It is not clear to me whether DHA can deliver all the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids or whether there's an added benefit from getting EPA and other omega 3 fatty acids.

As for flax oil: According to accounts I've read flax contains a fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid or ALA) that is a precursor to omega 3s but is is not an omega 3 fatty acid itself. ALA is suspected of increasing the risk of prostate cancer. Also, it is not all converted into DHA. So how beneficial is it? The answer is not clear to me.

Monsanto is working on genetic engineering to add omega 3 fatty acids to some food crops. I'm hopeful about that work due to the downsides of the other options. Fish is expensive, fisheries are getting depleted, and some fish have mercury and other contaminant problems. Flax might pose prostate cancer risks and might not work that well to boot. DHA Neuromins pills are a bit expensive and you'd have to take several a day and then only get DHA.

I do not know much about the efficacy of distillation techniques on fish oils or how honest the various vendors are who claim they use such distillation techniques.

MFraternity said at January 25, 2006 10:00 PM:

Yeah, I read that Flaxseed oil is not a good source of Omega-3's, because ALA is not converted efficiently to DHA or EPA, and ALA has been associated with an increased risk for prostate cancer. I read this information on a page on Krispin Sullivan's web site, which I have linked to below (it is the first link listed). Here is the relevant quote from the page:

"You may be tempted to eat foods or use supplements that contain LNA (linolenic acid- short chain omega-3) rather than EPA and DHA from fish or fish oil (particularly if you're a vegetarian), but you should be aware that it may not be very useful to you, as many of us convert it to EPA and DHA very inefficiently. This impaired conversion is further reduced in aging. In many studies even large doses of ALA (flax or perilla) did not raise membrane DHA. Flaxseed, perilla oil and walnuts are common sources of LNA. Recent studies suggest high amounts of ALA may be associated with prostate cancer." (written by Krispin Sullivan)

Also, on the differences between EPA and DHA: supposedly, DHA is the Omega-3 found in the brain. EPA is supposed to be beneficial for the cardiovascular system. I've read about supplements that market themselves as containing a high ratio of EPA to DHA (perhaps to appeal to people who want to take Omega-3's mainly for their alleged cardiovascular benefits), but I don't see why that's so appealing. If you take enough fish oil, you can get plenty of DHA and EPA. Does the consumption of one inhibits the body's usage of the other?

As for the effectiveness of purification procedures, I, too, am skeptical. However, I think that the availability of purified Omega-3's (preferably for low prices) is a matter of national importance. The FDA should look into regulating the production of Omega-3's supplements, even though (as I understand it) the FDA isn't involved in the regulation of supplements usually. For example, the fish oil supplements that I take, made by the company, "Spring Valley", have a message on the side that says, "PURIFIED TO REMOVE MERCURY, PCBs AND DIOXINS". I look at that and think, "What does that mean? How was it purified? How do you test the product to ensure its purity? Note that I am not endorsing this brand of supplements. It's just what my family has around, and I think we bought it because it was inexpensive.

Anyway, for people who want to read more about the usage of Omega-3 supplements, I offer two links. They both seem a little bit whacky, but they're food for thought, I suppose.

1) "Omega-3, Vitamin D and Sunlight"


This is an informative web page on Omega-3's run by nutritionist Krispin Sullivan, who doesn't sell any products on her site. The page has a glossary that I found helpful. Although I can't attest to the accuracy of the information on this page, it seems very informative, so check it out. She has an excerpt about the purity of Omega-3 supplements that I found interesting. Here it is: "Mercury toxicity is not a consideration with fish oil. Mercury is WATER soluble, not fat soluble. Low fat tuna and the flesh (not fat) of other large fish contain the highest levels of mercury. Other toxins can be present in fish oils. Reputable manufacturers should be willing to provide safety standards/testing. Due to the way fish oil is processed many contaminates are removed and taking fish oil is safer than eating large amounts of fish. Farmed fish have the lowest levels of omega-3 and highest levels of ALL contaminants." (written by Krispin Sullivan)

2) "Omega-3: How to Properly Increase Intake of Omega-3 with Fish Oil to Protect Against Disease"


Caveat: This guy sells nutritional products on his site, but his general discussion of supplementing with Omega-3's seems to be good. He believes that eating fish as a means of getting Omega-3's is generally dangerous, unless you use fish from special sources. I agree with the idea that encouraging the usage of Omega-3 supplements is a good idea.



Invisible Scientist said at January 27, 2006 12:08 AM:

MOLECULARLY DISTILLED fish body oil is probably the best method.

As long as you don't take 50 capsules of fish oil per day (as I did as an experiment before), you probably won't get sick like I did. But seriously, if you only take 2 capsules per day, and if you eat Alaskan Salmon twice a month, you should be OK.

Nougat said at January 27, 2006 7:00 PM:

I personally consume Sam's club fish oil. It's cheap and supposedly heavy metal free according to consumer reports. Otherwise I consume the life extension foundation fish oil, given that it has olive oil, and other beneficial stuff added.

David Tribe said at January 28, 2006 5:00 AM:

Sorry to other Future Pundit fans but Im repeating my post with proper tags as a real Pundit explained to me how to do it better, so here goes

You mention Monsanto and the possibility of engineering new sources of
omega-3 fatty acids using genetically modified crops. I have posted
several articles about this topic on my blog, GMO Pundit, which your readers
might find interesting:

crops will supply health benefits in the near future:

it indeed matters which and how much ofparticular omega-3 fats, EPA, DHA, or ALA or whatever, are used in the diet.

on Future Benefits of GM crops:

“This report focuses on the GM crops that could be commercialised within the next 15 years,” Senator Colbeck said. ... There’s also research into higher quality, more nutritious crops, or crops that could be processed more easily or cheaply. They could, for example, include Omega-3 fatty acids — healthy oils we normally get from fish."

new GMO soybeans:

We are entering an exponential phase of research and development discovery. l'm excited because this is absolutely an unparalleled pipeline in our history
Bob Badour said at January 28, 2006 6:41 AM:

Oh my! David's tags did not come through.

Randall, did you do something to block A tags?

Randall Parker said at January 28, 2006 10:43 AM:


No I do not block a tags at all. He must have typed them incorrectly.

Randall Parker said at January 29, 2006 7:34 PM:

See this PDF table of farmed and wild salmon and how much omega 3 fatty acids they contain. E{A and DHA are about a sixth of total wild coho salmon fat and about a fifth of total wild Atlantic salmon fat.

Also see this page of links to articles about omega 3 fatty acids in wild and farmed fish. My take the lower ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 in farmed fish is that it is irrelevant in the big picture. The farmed fish can provide the needed omega 3 fatty acids and do so more cheaply than wild salmon. Nothing grown on the land can do that and the situation will not change until genetic engineering provides a way to make plants cheap sources of DHA and EPA.

Invisible Scientist said at January 29, 2006 7:40 PM:

In the case of farmed fish, we still need to make sure that molecular distillation is capable of separating not only the heavy metals, but also the PCB and other types of artificial pollutants. So far, the farmed fish are very dangerous.

Bob Badour said at January 30, 2006 4:07 PM:

Granted, Randall, you read a lot more about this stuff than I do. What I have read, though, suggests to me that the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 matters more than the absolute amount of omega-3 -- with unity being close to the ideal ratio.

You seem to disagree with that viewpoint. Have you found something that suggests otherwise?

Randall Parker said at January 30, 2006 4:41 PM:


Farmed salmon still has a very favorable ratio of omega 3 to omega 6. For coho salmon farmed is 2.885 to 1 versus wild which is 3.663 to 1.

Given that I've seen wild for twice the price of farmed and given that we can't all eat wild it stands to reason that most people should eat farmed. It'll do the job on the omega ratio.

As for ratio versus absolute amounts: I've come across arguments for both positions. I do not know what to think. But farmed salmon has a better ratio than even most other fish when those other fish are wild. Salmon is the best fish omega 3 source I'm aware of that also has very little mercury.

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright ©