Children who get ample DHA from their mothers excel at problem-solving
by Craig Weatherby
The evidence indicating that children benefit developmentally from ample amounts of omega-3 DHA received before and after birth has been mixed, but mostly positive.
These findings come as little surprise, since omega-3 DHA is concentrated in human brain- and eye-cell membranes, and accumulates in these areas very rapidly during a child’s first year of life.
And by 2002, the positive evidence was strong enough to prompt the US FDA to authorize addition of this fish-derived nutrient to infant formulas in 2002.
And the generally positive research results have led knowledgeable ob-gyn’s and pediatricians to recommend supplemental fish oil for pregnant and nursing mothers, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers alike.
(It appears that the positive impact of omega-3 DHA on infants and toddlers is greater when they get it from breast milk— and subsequently from their childhood diets—compared with getting it from DHA-fortified infant formula.)
Unfortunately, the news about the benefits of higher maternal omega-3 intake to child development hasn’t reached most women.
The results of a recent survey by the Society for Women's Health Research (SWHR) in Washington, DC found that only 41 percent of mothers and expectant mothers know they should be consuming omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy.
The SWHR survey showed that women are less aware of the need to consume ample amounts of marine omega-3s, compared with their awareness of the need for folic acid, calcium, and vitamin D during pregnancy and nursing.
Joint university study finds omega-3 DHA enhances problem-solving
Supportive new findings flow from a small double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial published earlier this month by researchers at the University of Connecticut and Louisiana State University (Judge MP et al 2007).
This is the first study to test the effect of supplemental DHA during pregnancy on infants’ problem-solving ability during the first year of life.
And the encouraging results contribute still more evidence that omega-3 DHA from fish or fish oil can enhance child development.
The researchers enrolled 29 pregnant women and randomly assigned them to consume either of two cereal-based snack bars:
- Active bars containing 300 mg of DHA
- Cereal-based “placebo” bars without added DHA.
The participating mothers ate an average of five cereal bars per week starting 24 weeks after conception, and all the way through to delivery.
The infant’s intelligence and problem-solving capacities were tested at nine months of age, using two standard measures: The Infant Planning Test and the Fagan Test of Infant Intelligence.
The children of mothers supplemented with the DHA-fortified cereal bars displayed significantly better problem-solving performance, but no significant advantage in overall intelligence.
Note: 300 mg is the approximate amount of DHA found in the following amounts of our fish (variable by season and harvest area) and salmon oil:
- A 1.75 oz serving of wild Alaska Sablefish or Salmon (Sockeye, Silver or King).
- A 3.5 oz serving of Pacific Albacore Tuna, Alaska Halibut, Alaska Scallops, or Alaska King Crab.
- Four 1,000 mg capsules of Sockeye Salmon Oil.
Proven benefits of “clean” fish outweigh potential risks
Women have been getting mixed messages about the risks and rewards of eating fish during pregnancy and nursing, but the authors of recent evidence reviews concluded that the benefits of ingesting the omega-3s in fish outweigh the risks posed by mercury. (See “New Studies Agree Fish Benefits Outweigh Risks” and “Fish Health Rewards Seen Outweighing Risks”.)
The debate is particularly pointless when it comes to “clean” ocean fish like wild salmon and the other northern Pacific species we offer.
(The US FDA and US EPA list salmon as among the safest species for pregnant/nursing women, and the wild salmon we offer have far lower, clearly hazard-free levels of PCBs and dioxins, compared with farmed salmon.)
Of course, women can avoid all fish-contamination concerns by taking fish oil supplements while pregnant or nursing, and by giving their young children fish oil rather than fish.
(For information on the safety of fish oil for infants, and appropriate intake levels, see our accompanying response to a frequently asked question, “Is Fish Oil Safe for Infants?”, which reflects the guidance we received from nationally renowned pediatrician William Sears, M.D.)
Almost all fish oils are molecularly distilled for purity: a process that typically subjects their delicate omega-3 fatty acids to very high temperatures.
In contrast, our gently processed, whole Sockeye Salmon Oil does not need to be distilled because these fish eat vegetarian diets that contain vanishingly tiny amounts of mercury and other contaminants.
But don’t take our word for it. The potency and purity of our Sockeye Salmon Oil is certified by NSF: the world’s leading water-purity and supplement-testing body. (For test results, click here.)
- Judge MP, Harel O, Lammi-Keefe CJ. Maternal consumption of a docosahexaenoic acid-containing functional food during pregnancy: benefit for infant performance on problem-solving but not on recognition memory tasks at age 9 mo. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jun;85(6):1572-7.
- Meng LP, Zhang J, Zhao WH. [Relationship between maternal DHA intake and DHA status and development of fetus and infant] Wei Sheng Yan Jiu. 2005 Mar;34(2):231-3. Review. Chinese.
- Wright K, Coverston C, Tiedeman M, Abegglen JA. Formula supplemented with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA): a critical review of the research. J Spec Pediatr Nurs. 2006 Apr;11(2):100-12; discussion 112-3. Review.
- Auestad N, Scott DT, Janowsky JS, Jacobsen C, Carroll RE, Montalto MB, Halter R, Qiu W, Jacobs JR, Connor WE, Connor SL, Taylor JA, Neuringer M, Fitzgerald KM, Hall RT. Visual, cognitive, and language assessments at 39 months: a follow-up study of children fed formulas containing long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids to 1 year of age. Pediatrics. 2003 Sep;112(3 Pt 1):e177-83.
- Helland IB, Smith L, Saarem K, Saugstad OD, Drevon CA. Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children's IQ at 4 years of age. Pediatrics. 2003 Jan;111(1):e39-44.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Infant Formula: Frequently Asked Questions. Accessed online June 17, 2007 at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/inf-faq.html.
- US EPA. What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish. Accessed online June 17, 2007 at http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/fishadvice/advice.html.