Children likely to have greater brainpower if mother ate fish during pregnancy

Wed, Jan 11, 2012, 00:00

IF YOU want your children to be clever feed them fish. If you want them to be really clever, feed them fish while they are still in the womb.

Children are likely to have greater brainpower if their mothers consumed fish during pregnancy, an EU-funded study released yesterday has found.

The study of 2,000 women led by a German research group found that children born to women who ate more fish

during their pregnancies had better outcomes for verbal intelligence, fine motor skills and social behaviour.

People have long referred to fish as “brain food” and associated it with brain health. This idea was tested in an earlier study and indeed it did show that consumption of fish during pregnancy was associated with a higher verbal IQ in children tested at age eight years. The big question is what was causing this result.

For this reason the horribly named Nutrimenthe (Effect of diet on the mental performance of children) study came into being with funding worth €5.9 million from the EU’s Framework Programme 7 research funding scheme. It included researchers from Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain, the UK and the US.

The researchers focused on omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, given they are key components of cells and in particular the cell membranes of the brain.

For this study the researchers looked at blood samples from 2,000 women at 20 weeks into pregnancy and then took samples from the umbilical cord at birth.

For the first time they also looked at variations in clusters of genes, looking in particular at the genes associated with the breakdown of omega-3 and omega-6.

The researchers, led by Dr Eva Lattka from Helmholtz Zentrum in Munich, the German research centre for environmental health, discovered that the way these fatty acids were handled represented an interplay between mother and child.

They found that the mother’s consumption of fatty acids did bring about benefits for their children after birth, Dr Lattka said in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The problem is the researchers do not know why just yet. The project continues until 2013 as the researchers attempt to show whether it is levels of omega-3 in the mother that are related to the outcomes seen in children.