Nutrition Research Paper

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Kim Tone 3/5/09 Lifespan Nutrition Maternal Omega 3 fatty acid consumption and its effects on infant intelligence The field of nutrition is a fascinating one. As more and more research takes place the more apparent it becomes that what an individual consumes translates to several different facets of that individual’s body and thusly his or her life. From the first bite to the last, every ounce of food serves a purpose and contributes positively or negatively to lifelong development. It stands
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  Kim Tone3/5/09Lifespan Nutrition Maternal Omega 3 fatty acid consumption and its effects on infant intelligence The field of nutrition is a fascinating one. As more and more research takes placethe more apparent it becomes that what an individual consumes translates to severaldifferent facets of that individual’s body and thusly his or her life. From the first bite tothe last, every ounce of food serves a purpose and contributes positively or negatively tolifelong development. It stands to reason then, that the beginning stages of life hold themost importance for nutritional choices since this is the period when everything formsand development commences, setting the framework for an individual’s health for theduration of their existence. This phase of life represents such a crucial time frame, that anincreased focus is being placed on an adequate maternal diet in order to yield proper infant growth and development. Concerns about infant cognitive development andaptitude are no exception. Many recent studies show that increased maternalConsumption of omega 3 fatty acids in the form of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) during pregnancy and early stages of lactation has a significant positive impact on theintelligence of the infant.Scientists have discovered that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6 n-3) in the dietdirectly contributes to eye health and mental capacity. It is the main polyunsaturated fattyacid (PUFA) in the mammalian brain and high levels of it are found in the gray matter of   Tone 2the cerebral cortex and in the retina (1). This shows that not only is it a necessary nutrientto fuel growth, but this fatty acid is actually a part of the growing fetus’ brain, making itvery essential that enough is present to fully form the cerebral cortex. Being an essentialfatty acid, DHA is not produced in the body and must come from the diet. Consequently,the growing fetus’ only source of DHA is that which comes from the maternal diet andher stores that are shared via the placenta and breast milk. We know this because themother’s fatty acid profile is strongly correlated with the infant’s in many experiments(2) Studies have shown a sharp decrease in polyunsaturated fatty acid status after  pregnancy, and that its normalization during recovery is slow. This occurs becauselinoleic and alpha-linoleic acid compete for the same fatty acid conversion enzyme andmore alpha linoleic acid exists in the diet, making it improbable that DHA will be theconverted product. (3) This presents a problem for the fetus because it continues to need aconstant stream of DHA after birthing and into the lactation stage of the lifespan. If mostof the mother’s DHA is depleted and isn’t being replenished at a fast enough rate, seriouscognitive growth stunting can occur. “This accumulation of cellular DHA is particularly pronounced during late fetal and early neonatal life. The depletion of DHA levels to sub-optimal concentrations in the brain and retina, due to insufficient dietary intakes…has been found to result in impaired learning ability” (4) There may have been a time inhumanity’s past when a system to derive DHA from other fatty acids was not neededsince the diet of hunter-gatherers would have provided more than enough, perhaps fromeating other animal brains along with a diet much higher in fish than what is  Tone 3consumed in this day and age. (3) However, since our diets and evolutionary adaptationof DHA conversion are not quite matched up, what a pregnant mother consumes is highlyimperative. The most important organ of all, incomplete development of the brain canhave serious implications for the fetus later in life. Because of this, raising the amount of omega-3 fatty acids consumed by pregnant and lactating women becomes vitallyimportant.Supposing that the necessary amount of DHA was present in the maternal diet for  brain functions to develop properly, what would an excess of this essential polyunsaturated fatty acid do and could it be beneficial? This is the exact question thatIngrid Helland and her colleagues at the University of Tennessee at Memphis set out tofind. They asked several pregnant mothers to participate in the longitudinal study anddivided them into a control group consuming corn oil and an experimental groupconsuming cod liver oil. When the infants were four years old they were given anintelligence exam called the K-ABC (Kauffman Assessment Battery For Children) whichis designed to measure aptitude in children ages two and a half to twelve. “We receiveddietary information from 76 infants (41 in the cod liver oil group and 35 in the corn oilgroup), documenting that all of them were breastfed at 3months of age. Children whowere born to mothers who had taken cod liver oil during pregnancy and lactation scoredhigher on the Mental Processing Composite of the K-ABC at 4 years of age as comparedwith children whose mothers had taken corn oil.” (5) This study found a very highcorrelation with a larger head circumference with the cod liver intake and performance onthe Mental Processing Composite score on the exam, suggesting that infant intelligence is  Tone 4directly linked to cranial circumference. Cod liver is very high in omega-3 fatty acids,and in this case, it was the only difference among study subjects. Analysis of the breastmilk of each group showed an equal distribution of total fats, however the cod liver oilgroup showed a higher transfer of DHA over other Polyunsaturated fats. This means thata higher amount of omega-3 fatty acids in the mother’s diet leads to a paralleled higher amount in the infant’s brain, leading to an increase in mental performance.Docosahexaenoic acid is so vital to the brain, that its transfer from the bloodstream to the brain is incredibly more efficient than the transfer of any other PUFA. It is believed that the mechanisms behind this are found in the brain itself and could include“a preferential uptake of DHA from the bloodstream, efficient trapping and conservationof DHA in the brain, and the activity of the enzyme systems for elongation-desaturationand esterification of LnA.”(6) The mechanisms that allow for the elongation-desaturationare the same ones that allow for the infant to begin metabolizing PUFAs into its ownDHA that powers the neurons. (6) This could provide more evidence for a higher mentalcapacity being correlated with more maternal DHA in the diet. The more DHA themother consumes, the faster the newborn infant can start metabolizing its own DHA and powering its own neurons. The sooner and more efficiently the infant can provide energyfor its brain cells, the more able it will be to use more of them and therefore form asmany possible which will contribute to faster learning. A lot about how these mental processes work is still unknown. One thing is for certain, however. The more DHAavailable to the growing fetus and later infant, the more efficient the brain processes become and that is a grand indicator of a capability for higher mental functioning.
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