In pregnant women, taking omega-3 fish oil fatty acid supplements does not seem to have any effect on infant brain development. Researcher Saskia van Goor of the University Medical Centre Groningen did, however, find that the ratio between different fatty acids in the diet of pregnant women is important for early brain development. Van Goor will be awarded a PhD for her research by the University of Groningen on 13 April 2011.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important for brain development. Nowadays we eat far less of these fatty acids than in prehistoric times, whereas our bodies need even larger amounts. The mothers in this study were given fatty acids in order to ensure that their new-born babies had an adequate level.
In Van Goor’s study, during pregnancy and the first three months after childbirth one group of women was given DHA capsules (DHA is found in fish: omega-3), another group took DHA and AA (found in meat and eggs: omega-6), and a third group was given neither. The study showed that the ratio between these fatty acids soon after birth may play a role in infant brain development, as assessed by Van Goor after three months and 18 months. A clear conclusion cannot be drawn, however, as no differences were found between the groups of children after 18 months.
The fact that omega-3 fatty acids are important for healthy brain development has been known for some time. The idea that an adequate level can be achieved simply by taking a DHA supplement (or fish oil) during pregnancy and breast feeding is not confirmed by this study. Other studies too show that DHA has at most minor positive effects on child development. Van Goor therefore posits that the addition of simple nutritional substances such as omega-3, for example by taking fish oil capsules, probably has less effect than a varied diet containing different types of nutrients. Van Goor considers that the best advice for pregnant women and their children is a healthy diet with the recommended fish twice a week, combined with a healthy lifestyle.
Saskia van Goor (Groningen, 1979) studied pharmacy at the University of Groningen. She conducted her PhD research at the Laboratory Medicine and Developmental Neurology Departments of the University Medical Centre Groningen. The title of her thesis is ‘Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in pregnancy and lactation’. Van Goor is now working as a pharmacist at Proeftuin Farmacie in Groningen. Supervisors: F.A.J. Muskiet, M. Hadders-Algra.Co-supervisors: D.A.J. Dijck-Brouwer, J.J.H.M. Erwich, A. Schaafsma.
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