Eat More Fatty Fish During Pregnancy to Prevent Baby’s Anxiety

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Eat More Fatty Fish During PregnancyPoor dietary choices while pregnant can lead to lifelong anxiety disorders among offspring, reveals new study.

It is no surprise that pregnant women need to consume a healthy balanced diet filled with lots of essential nutrients such as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) so that they can ensure the best possible outcome for their offspring. Diet plays a significant role in the growth and development of the fetus. Furthermore, the ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 fats has been thought to play a significant role in brain development, yet the mechanism is poorly understood. Brain development is mostly completed during the initial stages of pregnancy in the embryonic period; therefore, poor nutrition can have a long-lasting effect leading to functional defects in the offspring.

The brain contains many different types of cells including neurons that develop early on in the embryonic period and astrocytes that develop in the late development stages shortly after birth. Most adult brain cells originate from these early stages of life. Most of these cells are found in the brain’s grey matter, which is responsible for muscle control, sensory perception, memory, emotions, speech, decision-making, and self-control.
In order for the gray matter to function most efficiently, your diet must include omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in an optimal ratio of 1.4 to 1.

However, because most American diets consist of high intakes of seed oils and low intakes of fish, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 has been found to be as high as 25 to 1. While public health policies have recommended increasing intake of omega-3 rich fish, the effects of this is unknown. However, it is concerning since studies have demonstrated that the consequences of an omega-3 poor maternal diet has resulted in increased anxiety disorders in offspring, regardless of their diet.

Researchers from Tohoku University’s School of Medicine evaluated the role that the maternal diet plays in the outcome of the offspring later on in life. Their study consisted of providing two different diets to a mice population. Both groups had a regular diet consisting of 16% of calories from fat with the control group receiving 3.1% of calories from omega-6 and 1.2% of calories from omega-3, compared to the study group whose diet was comprised of 11.8% of omega-6 and 0.3% of omega-3. The study groups’ diet is consistent with an average human diet.

Both groups consumed their diets for two weeks prior to mating, throughout gestation and for 10 days after birth, during lactation. At 13-15 weeks of age, the offspring were placed in two different types of mazes in order to evaluate their behaviors.

Findings revealed that offspring from the study group had high levels of omega-6 and reduced levels of omega-3 compared to the control group during both the embryonic stage and after birth. Further, when offspring consumed an adequate diet consisting of an optimal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, it was found that they exhibited anxiety disordered behaviors.

The authors concluded that “These findings provide compelling evidence that excess maternal consumption of omega-6 combined with insufficient intake of omega-3 causes abnormal brain development that can have long-lasting effects on the offspring’s mental state.”

Sources for today’s article:
“Why Fish Intake by Pregnant Women Improves the Growth of a Child’s Brain,” Research of Tohoku University, 2015.


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Leah Shainhouse, R.D.

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Leah Shainhouse is a Registered Dietitian with the College of Dietitians of Ontario and a member of the Dietitians of Canada. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science, Honors, in Nutritional Sciences from the University of British Columbia and went on to complete her dietetic training and Master of Science degree in Human Nutrition at McGill University. Leah has a strong desire to help shape the lives of individuals through a healthy lifestyle. She enjoys working with people to help... Read Full Bio »