December 21, 2006
Pre-Natal Fish Oil Improves Babies Hand-Eye Coordination

More evidence that omega 3 fatty acids found in fish help with the development of baby brains:

Fish oil supplements given to pregnant mums boost the hand-eye coordination of their babies as toddlers, reveals a small study published ahead of print in the Archives of Disease in Childhood (Fetal and Neonatal Edition).

The researchers base their findings on 98 pregnant women, who were either given 4g of fish oil supplements or 4g of olive oil supplements daily from 20 weeks of pregnancy until the birth of their babies.

Only non-smokers and those who did not routinely eat more than two weekly portions of fish were included in the study. Eighty three mothers completed the study.

Once the children had reached two and a half years of age, they were assessed using validated tests to measure growth and development.

These included tests of language, behaviour, practical reasoning and hand-eye coordination. In all, 72 children were assessed (33 in the fish oil group and 39 in the olive oil group).

There were no significant overall differences in language skills and growth between the two groups of children

But those whose mothers had taken fish oil supplements scored more highly on measures of receptive language (comprehension), average phrase length, and vocabulary.

And children whose mothers had taken fish oil supplements scored significantly higher in hand-eye coordination than those whose mothers had taken the olive oil supplements.

The effect might be even stronger if the mothers on the fish oil supplements breast feed. Though some baby formula contains omega 3 fatty acid DHA.

You can read the full paper as a PDF document:

Our finding of enhanced eye and hand coordination with fish oil supplementation is plausible and consistent with previously reported benefits on visual function after postnatal n-3 PUFA supplementation in both preterm14 24 and term15 25 infants. Although the underlying mechanism is not understood, DHA is known to facilitate rapid phototransduction in the retinal membrane,26 and deficiencies are associated with reduced retinal function in infant primates.2 Furthermore, effects on visual evoked potential could indicate that DHA may also have an effect on the development of the visual cortex.27 Finally, improved stereoacuity in infants has been associated with LC PUFA formula supplementation28 and fish intake of lactating mothers.29

To our knowledge, only one other study has assessed the effects of supplementation with high-dose fish oil in pregnancy on cognitive development of the offspring. A randomised clinical trial by Helland et al9 involved 590 pregnant women who received fish oil at half the dose we used in this study, from 18 weeks’ gestation until 3 months post partum. No differences in development were observed in the 269 infants tested at 6 and 9 months; however, fish oil supplementation was associated with increased mental processing in children at age 4 years. Additionally, mental processing scores were significantly correlated with maternal intake of DHA in pregnancy after adjusting for potential confounding factors10; this is consistent with observed correlations of DHA (and EPA) intake with eye and hand coordination in this study.

Other studies have found positive relationships between n- 3 PUFAs at birth (principally DHA) and aspects of visual and neurological development, in either observational studies30–32 or intervention studies using much lower levels of supplementation. 11 12 33 Our findings suggest that detection of the potentially beneficial effects of DHA in pregnancy may require larger doses. Further, although it is difficult to directly extrapolate the pregnancy dosage to supplementation of the preterm infant, the doses in our study resulted in similar increases in cord blood levels of DHA to those achieved with the higher doses trialled in preterm infants.34

The researchers acknowledge that their study was too small to prove their conclusions. But they think their conclusions are consistent with other studies of the effects of omega 3 fatty acid DHA on brain development.

Women who want to give their offspring every advantage should consider regular salmon meals or high quality omega 3 fatty acid supplements while pregnant and while lactating and breast feeding. Also, if you use baby formula and if DHA fortification is optional in your legal jurisdiction look for the formula brands that have DHA added.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 December 21 09:56 PM  Brain Development

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