DHA for Smart Babies

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Author: Dr. Steve Chaney

Every mom wants the best for their kids. Every mom would like to be able to give their kids an edge in life if they could.  According to a recent study there is one very simple thing that every mom can do to give her kids an edge.

A study published in the June 2009 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that when expectant mothers supplemented with DHA during pregnancy their infants had better problem solving skills at 9 months.

This was the very first study to look at the effect of DHA supplementation during pregnancy on problem solving skills at such a young age. Basically, the results of the study just mean that when the moms supplemented with DHA their kids were smarter – and were smarter at a very early age.

First, let me give you a little bit of background.

Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that occurs naturally in fish oils. It is found in particularly high concentrations in specific regions of the brain, including the cerebral cortex, synapses and retinal rod photoreceptors.

DHA consumption is especially important during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester when DHA accumulates in the fetal brain at a very high rate.

It is during that third trimester that the fetus forms the majority of brain cells that they will have for an entire lifetime.

In order to support brain development in the fetus, the recommended level of intake of DHA during pregnancy is 300 mg per day. Yet in the United States and Canada, DHA intake during pregnancy is only 10-15 mg/day,

Unfortunately, many food sources of omega-3 fatty acids in the American diet, even many omega-3 fortified foods and supplements, are primarily composed of the omega-3 fatty acid linolenic acid, and the conversion of linolenic acid to DHA is extremely limited.

Now let’s look at the clinical study in more detail:  It was a double blind, placebo controlled study (the best kind of study) and was performed at the University of Connecticut.  The women were divided into two groups. The placebo group was consuming only 10-15 mg of DHA/day (normal for the American population). The other group received an additional 300 mg of DHA/day.  The women were given the placebo or DHA supplement starting at 24 weeks of gestation and continuing through delivery.

A two-step means-end problem-solving test was presented to all of the infants in their own homes at nine months of age to evaluate their ability to execute a series of steps to retrieve a toy. The steps involved pulling a covered toy within reach and uncovering the toy.

The UConn researchers found a statistically significant difference between the problem solving abilities of the two groups, with the infants whose mothers had consumed a DHA functional food during pregnancy faring better.

Michelle Judge, the scientist who conducted the study said: “Our finding of better problem-solving abilities in the group of infants whose mothers consumed a prenatal DHA supplement supports the idea that DHA plays an important role in the development of attention required for infant goal-directed behavior and suggests that DHA consumption during gestation is particularly important for infant cognitive development.”

She went on to point out that: “These findings support previously published studies that have established links between prenatal DHA consumption and/or infant DHA consumption and improved attention and eye-hand coordination in toddlers and higher IQ later in childhood.”

Of course, I always recommend a holistic approach to health. DHA alone won’t substitute for good diet, avoiding potentially toxic substances and a holistic approach to prenatal supplementation.  However, if you are looking for that one additional gift that you could give your baby, DHA appears to be it.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Dr. Chaney has a BS in Chemistry from Duke University and a PhD in Biochemistry from UCLA. He currently holds the rank of Professor at a major university where runs an active cancer research program and has published over 100 scientific articles and reviews in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
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