Omega 3 fats during pregnancy are important for memory function of children

Long chain omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines are essential for the efficient function of the brain and body.  It is well known that having good intakes of the long chain omega 3 fats during pregnancy and in early infancy is important for brain function and cognitive development in infancy.  A new study (1) has now found that having good intakes of the long chain fats during pregnancy has long term positive effects on memory function in school-aged children.
 

Children with higher cord plasma concentrations of DHA performed better in the tests than those children who had lower DHA levels at birth. (2.)
Children with higher cord plasma concentrations of DHA performed better in the tests than those children who had lower DHA levels at birth. (2.)

The study, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, aimed to examine the relationship of the long chain omega 3 fats and memory function in school-aged children who were from a fish-eating community.  The study assessed over 150 children with an average age of 11 years.  The birth records of the umbilical cord plasma concentrations of the long chain omega 3 fat DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) were used as a measure of omega 3 levels at birth.  The children were asked to perform various tests such as visual recognition tasks and memory tasks.
 
The researchers (1) found that the children with higher cord plasma concentrations of DHA performed better in the tests than those children who had lower DHA levels at birth.  Analysis of the results showed positive associations between cord DHA concentrations and performance on neurobehavioral assessments of memory.  The authors of the study conclude that “To our knowledge, this study provides the first neurophysiologic and neurobehavioral evidence of long-term beneficial effects of n−3 PUFA intake in utero on memory function in school-age children”.
 
The study only shows an association between prenatal intake of omega 3 fats and long term memory function in children and further studies would be needed to confirm the links.  However, the omega 3 fats are vital for optimal health.  As my previous blog posts on the topic have shown omega 3 fats are important for the health of the heart, prevention and treatment of inflammatory conditions, the health of bones, brain and nerves.  Including these fats in the diet from a young age (and during pregnancy) is important for health.  As I have previously written there is also evidence to suggest that these fats can help to prevent/treat ADHD  (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in children.  Many people in the UK do not eat oily fish regularly (at least twice a week) and may not be getting enough of the long chain omega 3 fats in their diets.  If you do not regularly eat fish you may wish to consider talking to your doctor about the possibility of taking a daily fish oil supplement.  There are also vegetarian and vegan supplements which provide the long chain omega 3 fats, EPA and DHA, from algal sources. 
 
 
(1) Olivier Boucher O et al.  2011.  Neurophysiologic and neurobehavioral evidence of beneficial effects of prenatal omega-3 fatty acid intake on memory function at school age. Am J Clin Nutr.  93:5 1025-1037
(2) Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane

Written by Ani Richardson

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