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Fish-rich diets may boost babies' brain development


Oily fish for brain and eyes

Women could enhance the development of their unborn child's eyesight and brain function by regularly eating fatty fish during pregnancy. New research supports previous findings that show how important a prospective mother's diet and lifestyle choices are for the development of her baby.


Previous research has already shown that the more fish and seafood mothers eat during pregnancy, the better are the neurodevelopmental outcomes for their children - in terms of their verbal IQ, social skills, motor skills and behaviour - with significant benefits apparent until (at least) 8 years of age. See:

This landmark study showed that the US dietary recommendations at the time, which advised pregnant women to limit their fish and seafood to 2 portions a week - owing to misplaced concerns about possible harms from mercury - were actually causing harm to their unborn children.

Some years later (to their credit) both the US FDA and the European Food Standards Agency did both amend their dietary guidelines - making 2 portions of fish / week the target, not the maximum, for pregnant women, 
owing to the compelling evidence that the benefits of fish and seafood far outweighed any potential risks. See: 

This new study - from Finland - confirms the wisdom of that change, as these researchers found significant benefits for vision and brain function in the children of mothers who ate more than 2 portions a week of fish during their pregnancy, compared with those who ate less, or none.

The main reason why fish and seafood is so good for babies' brain development is thought tp be that fish and seafood are the main dietary source of the essential long chain omega-3 fat DHA.

Adequate supplies of this unique fatty acid during early brain development (i.e. pregnancy and infancy) are absolutely critical for for normal visual and cognitive development, but most pregnant women in the UK, US and other developed countries still fail to meet international recommendations for a minimum daily intake of 200mg DHA - let alone the larger amounts that 3+ portions of fish/week would typically provide). 

Omega-3 DHA is particularly critical for vision - as this fatty acid needs to make up 30-50% of the retina - so this nutrient alone could explain the better vision found in this study in infants whose mothers ate more fish. 

However, fish and seafood are also good sources of other k
ey brain nutrients - particularly iodine, selenium and Vitamin D (all of which are found in few other foods), as well as zinc, B vitamins and high-quality protein.

Read the underlying research here:

For another recent article reporting on this research, and more FAB comments, please see:

And for more information on the benefits of fish and seafood during pregnancy, see:

Women could enhance the development of their unborn child's eyesight and brain function by regularly eating fatty fish during pregnancy. This is the suggestion from a small-scale study led by Kirsi Laitinen of the University of Turku and Turku University Hospital in Finland, in the Springer Nature-branded journal Pediatric Research. The research supports previous findings that show how important a prospective mother's diet and lifestyle choices are for the development of her baby.

According to Laitinen, a mother's diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding is the main way that valuable long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids become available to a foetus and infant brain during the period of maximum brain growth during the first years of a child's life. Such fatty acids help to shape the nerve cells that are relevant to eyesight and particularly the retina. They are also important in forming the synapses that are vital in the transport of messages between neurons in the nervous system.

In this study, Laitinen and her colleagues analysed the results of 56 mothers and their children drawn from a larger study. The mothers had to keep a regular food diary during the course of their pregnancy. Fluctuations in their weight before and during pregnancy were taken into account, along with their blood sugar level and blood pressure. Aspects such as whether they smoked or developed diabetes related to pregnancy were also noted.

The team recorded the levels of nutritional long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid sources in the mother's diet and blood serum, and the levels in the blood of their children by the age of one month. Their children were further tested around their second birthday using pattern reversal visual evoked potentials (pVEP). This sensitive and accurate, non-invasive method is used to detect visual functioning and maturational changes occurring within a young child's visual system.

The subsequent analyses of the visual test results revealed that infants whose mothers ate fish three or more times a week during the last trimester of their pregnancy fared better than those whose mothers ate no fish or only up to two portions per week. These observations were further substantiated when the serum phospholipid fatty acid status was evaluated.

"The results of our study suggest that frequent fish consumption by pregnant women is of benefit for their unborn child's development. This may be attributable to long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids within fish, but also due to other nutrients like vitamin D and E, which are also important for development," explains Laitinen.

"Our study therefore highlights the potential importance of subtle changes in the diet of healthy women with uncompromised pregnancies, beyond prematurity or nutritional deficiencies, in regulating infantile neurodevelopment," adds Laitinen, who believes that their results should be incorporated into counselling given to pregnant women about their diets.