One of the most striking discoveries in recent years is the finding that omega-3 fatty acid known as DHA is required for optimal brain development during fetal and early infant life. In fact, failure for women to establish adequate DHA nutrition status has been strongly implicated in impaired brain development of their offspring, manifesting as lower IQ and an increased propensity for learning disabilities. The problem stems from the fact that the fetus is dependent upon the mothers body for much of its DHA requirement. After birth, infants continue to requrie DHA from breast milk during the first three months of life in order for optimal brain development to continue.
From a biochemical standpoint, the developing fetus can synthesize some DHA from the elongation and further desaturation of alpha-linolenic acid, which is richly supplied by flaxseed oil, and eicosapentaenoic acid, which is richly supplied by fish and fish oil. However, the fetal body and the infant body [for at least the first 3 months] are incapable synthesizing sufficient DHA to satisfy their needs for optimal brain development. Thus, it is imperative for women to ingest preformed DHA prior to becoming pregnant, during pregnancy and during their childs first threes months of life [assuming they are breast-feeding] in order to provide their children with the best opportunity to achieve ideal brain development and function.
Unfortunately, most women do not ingest sufficient amounts of DHA and there is no way to compensate once this critical time period have elapsed. Feeding the child DHA does not substantially affect brain development to the degree possible during pregnancy and the first three months of life.
Most women are not aware of the link between DHA and brain development. Thus, primary health care practitioners should alert female patients who are in their childbearing years as to the importance of regularly consuming fish as well as taking an essential fatty acid supplement daily.
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