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DHA: An Essential Fat In Your Child’s Brain Development During Pregnancy And Lactation – “Unfortunately most women don’t ingest enough to pass along”
James Meschino DC, MS,
One of the most striking discoveries in recent years is that the essential fat known as DHA is required for optimal brain development during fetal and infant life. Failure for women to ingest enough DHA results in impaired brain development of their offspring, lower IQ and learning disabilities, simply because the fetus is dependent upon the mother’s body for most of its DHA, and infants require DHA from breast milk. Unfortunately, most women do not ingest sufficient amounts of DHA to provide their offspring with best chance for optimal brain development and function. So, here’s what you need to know.
DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is found in many fish as well as supplements that contain fish oil. The body can also synthesize DHA from alpha-linolenic acid; an omega-3 fat found in high concentrations in flaxseed oil, and from EPA, another omega-3 fat found in fish and fish
In recent years we have learned that DHA is extremely important to brain development during fetus life and during the breast feeding stage of early life. In fact studies show that higher concentrations of DHA provided to the fetus and infant is associated with higher IQ scores throughout life (about 6 points higher on average).
In addition, studies show that the first-born child generally has a higher IQ than the children that follow. This has been attributed to the fact that the first-born child gets the benefit of acquiring the DHA the woman has accumulated in her tissues over her lifetime up to that point, followed by additional DHA that is available from her breast milk. Unless the woman adheres to a very aggressive omega-3 fat replenishment program from food and supplements, all of her subsequent children will not be afforded access to the same concentration of available DHA, as was the first born
As such, in most cases the children who are not the first-born are provided with lower amounts of DHA than was their oldest sibling, and as a result their brain development does not reach the same degree of
The Brain Is Largely Made Of
Most of the dry weight of the brain is lipid (fat) because brain activity depends greatly upon the functions provided by its outer fatty-waxy membrane. Compared to other body tissues, the brain content of DHA is very high. Thus, the young developing brain has a very high need for DHA, which must be provided from the mother’s
The greatest dependence on dietary DHA occurs in the fetus during the last third of pregnancy and (to a lesser extent) in the infant during the first 3 months after birth. It is during this period that brain synapses are forming most rapidly, and an infant’s demand for DHA exceeds the capacity of the enzymes to synthesize it. As such, the fetus extracts DHA provided by the placenta during its development, and after delivery, is reliant upon the amounts of DHA available in breast milk in order to optimize development of brain structure and function.
In fact, the increase in brain size during the final three months of pregnancy is three fold, and this rapid growth in brain development requires appreciable amounts of DHA. Failure to provide DHA during this critical period and/or during the first 3-months of breast feeding is associated with learning disabilities and lower IQ scores. Of note is the fact that DHA is also required for vision as well
A Couple Recent Studies Bolster The DHA Story
Recent support for the idea that DHA is critical for brain development came from an experiment which studied the effects of adding DHA (in the form of fish oil) to infant formula. At both 16 and 30 weeks of age the breast-fed and supplement-formula-fed infants showed significantly better visual acuity than the placebo-formula-fed infants.
In another study, researchers in Norway examining the effects of DHA on mental development, found that those children whose mothers had a higher intake of DHA during pregnancy scored higher on intelligence and achievement tests at four years of age than those whose mothers took a supplement not containing DHA.
So What Should Women Of Child-Bearing Years
The best advice is to consume fish twice per week during your entire adult life. This practice not only helps enrich your body with DHA to support brain development in your future children, but DHA is also needed for your own brain. Along with EPA, the other omega-3 fat in fish, these two essential fats can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia in your own brain as you age, according to a number of recent reports. Of course, omega-3 fats also reduce risk of heart disease and
Eating more than two servings of fish per week, however, is not advisable because of the risk of mercury toxicity and other contaminants, associated with fish consumption. Yet, further intake of omega-3 fats is desirable. As such, I recommend that adult women (and men) take a daily supplement each day that contains a combination of fish oil, flaxeed oil and borage seed oil. Each capsule should contain 400 mg of each oil, and I suggest that you do what I do, “take 3 capsules per day for general health maintenance and disease
If you are a woman in your child-bearing years, then taking an essential oils supplement is of the utmost importance. The additional EPA, DHA, and ALA acquired from this supplement is a highly efficient way to help saturate your tissues with DHA prior to your first pregnancy, or replenish your tissues with DHA between pregnancies, so that all your children will have access to the DHA they require for their optimal brain development. In many cases doctors now instruct women to take an essential oils supplement during the breast-feeding stage. A high-yield DHA supplement is the gold-standard in these
The great thing about using a well-designed essential oils supplement is that it does not contain any mercury or contaminants, and is simply a purified oil product that provides all of the good stuff and none of the bad
The bottom line is simply that for both you and your unborn children get the DHA into your body that nature intended you to have – some from fish and the rest from DHA-rich, essential oils supplement.
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