by Craig Weatherby
While clinical results remain mixed, a growing body of evidence supports the hypothetical benefits that should accrue to breastfed children when their mothers’ diets are rich in DHA: one of two key omega-3 fatty acids found only in marine algae and fish.
As we reported last fall (see "Kids' Attention Spans Improved"), most studies have shown that feeding infants formulas fortified with the two fatty acids most important to the integrity and function of cell membranes—omega-3 DHA and omega-6 arachidonic acid—results in significant cognitive enhancements such as increased attention span.
Now, the results of a study published in July of this year (Jensen CL, et al.) show that the young children of mothers who take supplemental DHA display improved hand-eye coordination as toddlers (30 months of age).
What the study showed
Researchers at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine set out to see whether infants benefitted when their nursing mothers took supplemental DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). As they hypothesized, the results were positive, probably because DHA—an omega-3 fatty acid—is essential to brain and eye development.
During the four months following delivery of their babies, half of a group of 227 breastfeeding women took a daily capsule containing 200mg DHA, while the other half took a vegetable oil capsule containing no DHA.
At the end of four months, DHA levels in the mothers’ milk and the infants’ blood phospholipid levels were about 75 and 35 percent higher, respectively, in the DHA group than in the placebo control group (Phospholipids are fats and fat-like substances that constitute the major structural elements of most cell membranes).
At first, there was no obvious difference between the two groups in brain or eye development. However, at 30 months, the DHA group scored higher on a measure of hand-eye co-ordination called the Bayley Psychomotor Development Index. (No difference between the two groups was seen in a mental development test.)
The researchers came to this conclusion: “DHA supplementation of breastfeeding mothers results in higher infant plasma phospholipid DHA contents during supplementation and a higher Bayley Psychomotor Development Index at 30 months of age....”
As “America’s pediatrician”, Dr William Sears, commented, "This study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that DHA supplementation during breastfeeding results in long-term benefits for children… [its results] suggest that women in the US should consider DHA supplementation during pregnancy and nursing.”
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