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America's Big Fat Imbalance May Harm Babies' Brains
Omega-3/6 imbalance typical of the American diet gave baby mice smaller, more anxious brains

01/20/2016 By Craig Weatherby
The "omega imbalance” found in the average American's diet is a hot topic.

And that's a good thing, because this imbalance is causing a public health catastrophe.

We're talking about excessive intake of omega-6 fats from cheap vegetable oils, and a serious shortage of omega-3 fats from seafood.

This crisis is the focus of our own "Out of Balance” video, featuring world-renowned scientists … and clear, simple solutions.

You will find more info and diet tips on our "Know Your Omega-3/6 Numbers” page, and in the Omega-3 / Omega-6 Balance section of our news archive.

Now, the results of a mouse study suggest that a pregnant or nursing women who eats an omega-imbalanced diet may unknowingly prevent their baby's brain from reaching its full potential.

Background to the worrisome findings
People must eat omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids to survive and thrive.

In fact, the scientist who discovered them in 1923 called these two families of fats "vitamin F”.

Over many thousands of years, our ancestors' genes adapted to thrive on the available foods.

And worldwide – until about 1970 – most people's diets featured a pretty close balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fats; about three parts omega-6 fats to one part omega-3s.

But today, the average American's diet delivers 10 to 20 times more omega-6s than omega-3s.

That's because the average American's diet suffers from an overload of cheap, omega-6-laden seed oils (soy, corn, safflower, sunflower, and cottonseed). 

Meanwhile, their diet usually lacks fish and shellfish … the only foods that provides the most important omega-3 for child development (and adult health), called DHA. (And much of the seafood that Americans eat is breaded and deep-fried in omega-6-rich oils.)

(Note: Certain plant foods – canola oil, flax seed, flax oil, walnuts, and dark leafy greens, – contain so-called "short-chain” omega-3s. However, unlike seafood-source omega-3s, these can't effectively counterbalance the huge amounts of omega-6 fats in the American diet.). 

And – compared with omega-3s – omega-6 fats influence our genes and cells far more strongly ... which deepens the damage done by excessive omega-6 intake.

Most population studies link omega-imbalanced maternal and childhood diets to bad brain-health outcomes … weaker language skills, antisocial behavior, and serious attention, mood, anxiety, and psychological disorders (Bernard JY et al. 2013).

Earlier research set the stage for new study
Five years ago, researchers at China's Beijing Children's Hospital published research that laid the groundwork for the new Japanese study.

The Chinese researchers found that – compared with diets providing roughly equal amounts of omega-3s and omega-6s – omega-imbalanced diets produced worse brain outcomes in baby mice.

As they wrote, "These results suggest that higher maternal intake of omega-3s and a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio (about 1-2:1), during pregnancy and lactation may be more beneficial for early brain development.” (Tian C et al. 2011)

(They also identified one way in which omega-3 and omega-6 fats affect brain development in mice – via different influences on key messenger chemicals called PPARs.)

Following in their footsteps, scientists in Japan just reported the disturbing – but potentially beneficial – results of a mouse study.

Importantly, the Japanese team discovered another way in which a mother's omega-3/6 intake balance can affect a child's brain outcomes. 

Mouse study delivers disturbing signs
The new study comes from Japan's Tohoku University School of Medicine.

Scientists led by Noriko Osama, PhD, fed pregnant mice one of two different diets:
  • Omega-Balanced – roughly equal levels of omega-6s and omega-3s
  • Omega-Imbalanced – high in omega-6s, low in omega-3s (like the average American's diet)
Disturbingly, the offspring born to mothers in the Omega-Imbalanced group had smaller brains, and higher levels of anxiety.

According to team leader Noriko Osama, PhD, the smaller brains resulted from premature aging of fetal stem cells that became brain cells. 

In turn, that premature aging of stem cells was caused by imbalanced intake of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.

Even though the baby mice were fed nutritionally ideal diets after being born, they suffered higher anxiety levels, lifelong.

In other words, the damage done to the babies' brains proved long-lasting and possibly irreversible.

As the Japanese team said, "These findings provide compelling evidence that excess maternal consumption of omega-6s, combined with insufficient intake of omega-3s, causes abnormal brain development that can have long-lasting effects on the offspring's mental state.” (Sakayori N et al. 2015)

The new findings bolster the universal medical advice provided to pregnant and nursing women.

Alternative and mainstream practitioners alike agree that expectant and nursing mothers should eat seafood twice a week.

The next best strategy is to take a fish oil supplement ... preferably one that provides far more omega-3 DHA than omega-3 EPA.




Sources
  • Bernard JY et al. The dietary n6:n3 fatty acid ratio during pregnancy is inversely associated with child neurodevelopment in the EDEN mother-child cohort. J Nutr. 2013 Sep;143(9):1481-8. doi: 10.3945/jn.113.178640. Epub 2013 Jul 31.
  • Gibson RA, Makrides M. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in breast milk: are they essential? Adv Exp Med Biol. 2001;501:375-83. Review
  • Janssen CI et al. Impact of dietary n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on cognition, motor skills and hippocampal neurogenesis in developing C57BL/6J mice. J Nutr Biochem. 2015 Jan;26(1):24-35. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2014.08.002. Epub 2014 Sep 28.
  • Rao S, Joshi S, Kale A, Hegde M, Mahadik S. Maternal folic acid supplementation to dams on marginal protein level alters brain fatty acid levels of their adult offspring. Metabolism. 2006 May;55(5):628-34.
  • Sakayori N et al. Maternal dietary imbalance between omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids impairs neocortical development via epoxy metabolites. Stem Cells. 2015 Nov 18. doi: 10.1002/stem.2246. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Tian C, Fan C, Liu X, Xu F, Qi K. Brain histological changes in young mice submitted to diets with different ratios of n-6/n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids during maternal pregnancy and lactation. Clin Nutr. 2011 Oct;30(5):659-67. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2011.03.002. Epub 2011 Apr 2.
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  • Xiang M, Harbige LS, Zetterström R. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in Chinese and Swedish mothers: diet, breast milk and infant growth. Acta Paediatr. 2005 Nov;94(11):1543-9.