Mother and children

Omega-3 is great for baby’s brain development

Fish has a long-term reputation as “brain food”. For a while this was put down to it being an excellent source of protein but then attention switched to the omega-3 fats that are so richly supplied in fish oil. There has been a lot of research showing that these omega-3s are valuable for the development of a baby’s brain and then as the child grows. Studies have linked inadequate levels of omega-3 to conditions such as ADHD. While links are valuable, it is gratifying when we find out how something is happening; mechanisms make sense of the world. Now a new study has shown just how fish and omega-3 is good for a baby’s brain.

For a start, the new research found that a balanced intake of fats (omega-3 and omega-6) by pregnant women is necessary for the health of a baby’s brain. Then, in an animal-based study, the researchers found that, when pregnant mice were fed a diet high in omega-6 fats and low in omega-3 fats (similar to the standard Western diet), their pups were born with a smaller brain and as adults showed abnormal social behaviour. Even though the pups were raised on a nutritionally optimised diet, they showed greater anxiety levels throughout life.

There has been a lot of research showing that these omega-3s are valuable for the development of a baby's brain and then as the child grows.

This all fits with what we already knew about the effect of omega-3 fats on brain development and then later life. However, what these researchers also found was that an imbalance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid oxides promotes premature ageing of the foetal neural stem cells that go on to produce brain cells.

It all reinforces the need for omega-3 for us all but also especially during pregnancy. If you don’t want to eat fish for your omega-3, you can also turn to excellent vegetarian sources (being sure to keep omega-6 low as well) like flax seeds, chia seeds, seaweed, leafy greens and cabbage.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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