Fish oil taken during pregnancy may help improve brain function in kids

Elvira Manzano
09 Jun 2021

Children whose mothers had taken fish oil supplements during the second half of pregnancy appeared to have better problem-solving skills and attention focus at age 10 vs those whose mothers had consumed folic acid alone or no supplements at all in a study presented at WCPGHAN 2021.

“Children born to mothers supplemented with fish oil during pregnancy had faster processing speed when solving complex problems and better results in attention tests,” reported study author Professor Berthold Koletzko, Head of the Division of Metabolic and Nutritional Medicine at Dr von Hauner Children’s Hospital, University of Munich Medical Centre, Munich, Germany.

“Additionally, they had improved memory,” commented study coordinator Professor Christina Campoy from the University of Granada in Granada, Spain. “Fish oil supplementation was associated with lesser functional connectivity of children’s brain networks. However, fish oil supplementation did not indicate poor cognitive neurodevelopment. Rather what was shown was the opposite.”

By comparison, folic acid supplementation did not lead to appreciable modification of brain function measures, the researchers shared.

First-of-its-kind study

The study was the first to examine the long-term effects of maternal supplementation with fish oil (DHA* 500 mg + EPA** 150 mg daily) and/or folic acid (5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) 400 µg daily on the brain functionality (resting-state network) of children at 10 years old. [WCPGHAN 2021, abstract N-O-017]

Fifty-seven Spanish children were followed up and assessed using resting state-MRI brain scanning to measure RSN, in addition to neuropsychological testing. Independent component analysis and double regression method were used to determine plausible associations.

Those born to mothers supplemented with fish oils or fish oil + 5-MTHF (n=33) had weaker functional connectivity in the default mode (angular gyrus), the sensorimotor (motor and somatosensory cortices), and the frontoparietal (angular gyrus) networks compared with those whose mothers had zero fish oil intake (placebo and 5-MTHF, n=24).

“There were no differences between groups concerning the neuropsychological tests,” Koletzko shared. “But after correlating the resting-state scores and neuropsychological tests, we found that children born to mothers who did not take fish oil supplements performed poorly regarding speed processing and attention tests.”

Diet and counselling matter

“This suggests that the quality of maternal nutrient supplied during rapid early brain development of the baby in the womb has a lasting impact on later brain function at school age,” said Koletzko. “Therefore, women should be supported before and during pregnancy in achieving a good quality diet and counselled on potential fish oil supplementation,” he added.

Still, the data should be interpreted as preliminary and warrant further research.


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