(Health Secrets) We all want our children to reach their full potential and be the people they were meant to be. This is why it’s important to know that brain development of babies and children is highly influenced by nutritional intake. Kids who receive inadequate amounts of a key nutrient will have inadequate brain development, resulting in lower IQ’s, reduced language development, and slower fine motor development. These are the findings of an extraordinary longitudinal study conducted by a research team led by Professor Jake Najman at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia
The human brain is primarily composed of fat, 60% by dry weight, and the right fats are critical to brain development. Professor Najman’s research team was particularly interested in investigating the importance of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 long chain fatty acid. DHA comprises 25 to 35 percent of the brain’s fatty material, and 50 to 60% of the fatty material in the retina of the eye where it is needed for visual acuity.
The team found that the presence of adequate amounts of DHA is necessary for proper infant and childhood neurological development. Specifically, DHA was shown to significantly alter many basic properties of cell membranes, including fluidity, elasticity, permeability, and interactions with key regulatory proteins. DHA was also shown to support electrical signaling, cellular communication, and ultimately brain functions such as memory, processing, and learning ability.
Other compelling research has linked DHA to the rapid cerebral cortex and eye development that occurs during the last trimester of the prenatal period and in the first few months of infancy.
Why breast fed babies are smarter
The diet of the mother reflects the amount of DHA available to be passed on to the baby. If the mother is low in DHA, there will be little to pass along to the child., and brain development may be impaired. If the baby is not breast fed at all, it receives no DHA in the critical developmental period following birth. DHA levels of premature infants are especially low, since they miss much of that last trimester. And premature babies are also more likely to be bottle fed.
Since DHA is passed through the placenta to the fetus during pregnancy and to the nursing baby from breast milk, optimal levels of DHA are necessary in the bloodstreams of pregnant women and in the breast milk of nursing mothers.
The Queensland study concluded that the presence of DHA in breast milk explains why breast fed babies have a cognitive advantage over babies fed with infant formula containing no DHA. The study found that breast fed children demonstrated an 8 point intellectual advantage when they were administered standard IQ tests.
Other research supports the conclusion that the DHA levels in American women today are severely deficient and comparable to that of women in Third World countries, largely as the result of dietary choices. This puts the brain development of their children at risk.
Sources of DHA
The level of DHA available to support the developing brain and nervous system in the fetus, and to be transferred from the mother to the infant via breast milk, reflects the diet of the mother. Food sources providing superior levels of DHA are primarily salmon, sardines, tuna and other fatty cold water fish. Lesser amounts may be found in eggs, red meats and organ meats.
The vegetarian food sources producing the greatest amounts of DHA flax and hemp. Walnuts are another good source. It is important to note that the vegetable source of this omega-3 fatty acid is alpha linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is not equivalent in its biological effects to DHA, which is more rapidly incorporated into plasma and membrane lipids and produces more rapid effects than does ALA. ALA is converted in the liver to EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which then converts to DHA. This conversion is not always reliable and may be restricted by insufficiencies in the body or the gender of the person. Males have more difficulty converting ALA to EPA than do females. So even though ALA is beneficial for health, DHA is best obtained directly from animal sources.
Realizing the need for this amazing nutrient, some people supplement their diets with fish oil capsules. If this is your choice, remember that DHA is highly unsaturated, so it is very susceptible to free radical damage. Such molecular damage is the reason why old fish has that pungent fishy smell. So every bottle of fish oil you buy should be tested before it is used. Cut a capsule open, taste it and decide. If it has almost no odor and a very light, slightly fishy taste it is probably alright. If the taste is lingering and pungent, it is probably rancid and should be returned to the store where you bought it. Opened bottles of fish oil must be refrigerated.
This threat of oxidation is why care must be taken to eat only the freshest fish. Canned fish may be a good choice as fish is canned when very fresh. DHA survives the canning process well. Frozen fish is another option as fish is usually frozen very soon after being caught. Fish oil capsules for children are available.
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