Fish is indeed brain food. For babies.

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

The old saying that fish is brain food is right. Fetuses and young babies need fatty acids found in fish oil in order for their brains to develop properly. A study reported by ScienceDaily links dietary deficiencies in the type of fatty acids found in fish with limiting brain growth during fetal development and early in life. These findings should encourage women to eat foods rich these fatty acids while they are pregnant as well as after birth if they are breastfeeding.

The n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are precursors of docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, which is needed to develop a healthy nervous system. The study, conducted by UC Irvine scientists and published in The Journal of Neuroscience, found that shortages of this fatty acid caused molecular changes in the developing brain that resulted in limited growth of neurons and the synapses that connect them. In the experiment, female frogs and tadpoles were used to analyze how brain tissue deprived of DHA brought about poorly developed neurons and limited numbers of synapses.

“When we changed the diets of DHA-deficient mothers to include a proper level of this dietary fatty acid, neuronal and synaptic growth flourished and returned to normal in the following generation of tadpoles,” said Susana Cohen-Cory, professor of neurobiology and behavior.

For human babies, DHA is important at all stages of pregnancy, but particularly during the last three months. It aids the development of an unborn child’s brain and eyes. It is also important during infancy while the brain continues to develop. DHA has also been found to be helpful to maternal well-being, and can extend pregnancy by a few days to help reach a full term.

One way to increase dietary DHA by eating oily fish such as mackerel, herring, salmon, trout and sardines. These fish are available along India’s coast and may be available for sale inland. For those who cannot get fish, or who do not eat fish, fish oil capsules may be a suitable substitute. DHA can also be derived by eating eggs and meat, nuts, flax seeds, whole grains and dark green, leafy vegetables. However, fatty acids from vegetarian sources must go through a multi-step process in the body to become DHA and may not yield much. Therefore another source might be dietary supplements containing algae, which is where fish get DHA from as well.

Do you think DHA matters? Where can people get algae supplements? Share your thoughts below. Please like FamiLife’s page on Facebook so that you get all our articles and others may find us.

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