This study provides evidence of 'nutritional programming' effects - whereby nutritional deficiencies in the mother during pregnancy can affect the health and development of the offspring throughout their lifetimes, and can even be magnifed in successive generations.
Researchers used an animal model, exposing both adult and adolescent rats to deficiencies of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, and studying both the first and second generations.
They found that omega-3 deficiency increased the risk of anxiety, hyperactivity and cognitive problems in both parents and offspring - but that these impairments were greated in the the 'second-generation' adolescents.
For details of this research, see:
Obviously, controlled studies like this one cannot be carried out in humans for ethical and practical reasons, but nutritional programming effects in humans have been demonstrated, and they operate via similar principles to those documented in animals. And as the researchers point out, dietary omega-3 deficiencies became widespread in the US, UK and other developed countries with the rise of processed and 'fast-food' diets from the 1960s onwards.
These findings therefore add further weight to the existing evidence that these omega-3 deficiences may be contributing to the increased rates of behavioural, cognitive and mental health problems observed across successive generations.
Other animal studies have already pinpointed mechanisms by which omega-3 deficiency in pregnancy can permanently alter brain development in ways that increase the risks for anxiety and other mood, behaviour and cognitive problems in the offspring. See:
30 Jul 2013 - Nutraingredients
The negative effects of poor omega-3 intake could become incrementally worse through consecutive generations, accordig to a new study.
The team of US researchers used rats to model how second-generation deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids affected long-term health, mood and cognitive functions - finding that deficiencies in these essential fatty acids over consecutive generations can lead to cognitive and behavioural problems.
Writing in Biological Psychiatry, the team revealed that a lack of omega-3 led to elevated states of anxiety and hyperactivity in second generation adolescents and affected their memory and cognition.
"We found that this dietary deficiency can compromise the behavioural health of adolescents, not only because their diet is deficient, but because their parents' diet was deficient as well" said Professor Bita Moghaddam of the University of Pittsburgh - lead author of the paper.
"This is of particular concern because adolescence is a very vulnerable time for developing psychiatric disorders invluding schizophrenia and addiction"