A new study from the Netherlands finds that expectant mothers who consume higher levels of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) have children with improved motor function later in life.
Dutch scientists followed over 300 children for seven years, comparing their skills involving hand-eye coordination with the amount of DHA measured in umbilical cord blood. The researchers learned that children who received more DHA in the womb did not move "more," that is, they did not fidget or wander, but they moved "better," that is, they were better able to tie a shoe, throw a ball, use buttons and zippers, and use their hands in music and crafts. The study found that children benefited from DHA regardless of whether they were born pre-term, and that DHA was good for both boys and girls.
Children who had been exposed to more DHA in utero did not have higher IQs than children who had not, but by age 7 they tended to have larger vocabularies, speaker in longer sentences, and to have higher scores on tests of language comprehension. Moreover, mothers who had higher levels of DHA during pregnancy were less likely to suffer post-partum depression and recovered from childbirth faster.
The findings of this latest study fall in line with several others. An American clinical research team found that babies who got more DHA in their formula grew taller and heavier, had keener eyesight, and more highly developed language skills by age 3 years and 3 months. Another American study, also funded by Abbott Labs, determined that pre-term infants were more likely to speak by age 14 months if they received formula supplemented with DHA and arachidonic acid (the fatty acid found in egg).
So how should expectant mothers get their DHA?
The foods that are richest in DHA are the two "F's," flax and fish. Flaxseed oil is particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids, as is cold-water fish. There is also some DHA in canola oil, soybean oil, eggs, and the organ meats Americans are mostly likely to encounter in sausages and weiners (not that I recommend a steady diet of either during pregnancy). Two 3-1/2 oz (100 g) servings of fish a week are enough if the diet also includes other DHA-rich foods. Algae, as you may know, is also an excellent source of DHA.
The most widely DHA supplement is fish oil. Distilled fish oil contains none of the heavy metals that sometimes appear in ocean fish. The new supplement Expecta Lipil likewise is screened for toxins. Neuromins, however, is the vegetarian alternative.
DHA is the number one component of brain tissue, so it's not hard to understand that getting enough DHA is essential to brain health. Just don't go overboard. As little as 200 mg of DHA a day can make the difference, and you can get this dosage safely, inexpensively, without upsetting your digestion or your diet.