Mothers who supplement their diet with fatty acids rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) during pregnancy and lactation may be doing their children a favour in later years, say researchers in this month's Pediatrics journal.
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 fatty acids not containing DHA.
The researchers at the University of Oslo enrolled women during the 18th week of pregnancy in a randomised, double-blind trial and supplemented their diets with one of two different polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).
Participants received either cod liver oil (containing very-long-chain omega-3 PUFA rich in DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids) or corn oil (a long-chain omega-6 PUFA with no DHA content). They took the supplements from the point of enrollment until three months after childbirth.
Researchers then completed assessments of intelligence using the Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children (K-ABC) for 84 child subjects once they reached four years of age.
The team found that children born to mothers who had taken the cod liver oil during pregnancy and lactation scored significantly higher (approximately 4.1 points) on the Mental Processing Composite of the K-ABC test compared to children whose mothers had received corn oil.