Docohexaenoic acid (DHA) is important for development of the central nervous system in mammals. There is a growth spurt in the human brain during the last trimester of pregnancy and the first postnatal months, with a large increase in the cerebral content of DHA.
This randomised, double-blind study saw pregnant women (in week 18 of pregnancy) take 10mL of cod liver oil or corn oil until 3 months after delivery. The cod liver oil contained 1183mg/10mL DHA, 803mg/10mL EPA. The corn oil contained 4747mg/10mL linoleic acid and 92mg/10mL alpha-linolenic acid. The amount of fat-soluble vitamins was identical in the two oils (117 mcg/mL vitamin A, 1mg/mL vitamin D, and 1.4mg/mL dl-alpha-tocopherol).
All infants of these women were scheduled for assessment of cognitive function at 6 and 9 months of age and all of them were breastfed at 3 months of age. Children who were born to mothers who had the EPA/DHA supplement during pregnancy and lactation scored higher on the Mental Processing Composite of the Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children (K-ABC) at 4 years of age as compared with children whose mothers had taken corn oil.
The Mental Processing Composite score also correlated significantly with head circumference at birth. The children’s mental processing scores at 4 years of age correlated significantly with maternal intake of DHA and EPA acid during pregnancy. In a multiple regression model, maternal intake of DHA during pregnancy was the only variable of statistical significance for the children’s mental processing scores at 4 years of age.
- Helland IB, Smith L, Saarem K, et al. Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children’s IQ at 4 years of age. Pediatrics 2003;111(1):39-44. [Full text]