Vol. 9, No. 1, 2003 Page 1&4

Maternal nutrition strongly linked to children's IQ, behavior

Maternal diet during pregnancy and lactation can strongly affect IQ and early infant behavior, according to two recent studies. Both IQ and early behavior are powerful factors in determining a child's academic and social success, as well as the risk for delinquency or criminality, in later life.

Omega-3 supplements raise offspring's IQ

In a randomized, double-blind study, Ingrid Bergliot Helland and colleagues measured the IQs of children whose mothers received supplements of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation (in the form of cod liver oil), comparing them to children of mothers who received omega-6 fatty acids in the form of corn oil supplements. Mounting evidence indicates that many people are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to the normal development of the brain and eyes, while consumption of omega-6 fatty acids is adequate or even excessive.

Helland and colleagues began giving a group of women either omega- 3 or omega-6 long-chain fatty acids during the 18th week of the women's pregnancies, and continued the supplements throughout pregnancy and the first three months after delivery. When the women's children reached the age of four, the researchers measured their IQs using the Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children (K-ABC). A total of 84 children completed the IQ testing.

The researchers report, "Children who were born to mothers who had taken cod liver oil during pregnancy and lactation scored higher on the Mental Processing Composite of the K-ABC at four years of age as compared with children whose mothers had taken corn oil." Further analysis showed that maternal intake of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) during pregnancy was the only statistically significant variable influencing the children's mental processing scores.

The researchers say their findings support their hypothesis "that maternal intake of DHA during pregnancy and lactation is marginal and that high intake of this fatty acid would benefit the child."

Helland et al.'s findings are consistent with those of an earlier study (see related article, Crime Times, 2000, Vol. 6, No. 2, Page 7) which compared newborns given standard infant formula to those given either formula enriched with DHA, or formula enriched with both DHA and AA (arachidonic acid, another essential fatty acid). In that study, the infants receiving the DHA-plus-AA formula had an average IQ of 105.6, those receiving the DHA formula had an average IQ of 102, and those drinking standard formula had IQs of only 98 (below the norm of 100). Similarly, a study by P. Willatts et al. found that full-term babies receiving fatty- acid-enriched formula for four months performed better on problem- solving tests at the age of 10 months than did babies who received standard formula.

Maternal B6 affects infant behavior

In a separate study, L. Mallory Boylan and colleagues analyzed the vitamin B6 content of mothers' "transitional" milk (the milk produced from approximately the seventh day after delivery to the second week after delivery, which is a transitional phase between the colostrum produced immediately after delivery and the "mature" milk produced later). Analyzing the milk's content of B6 vitamers (different chemical forms of the vitamin that have the same activity), they found that mothers with a high vitamin B6 intake had a higher level of one vitamer in particular, pyridoxal, than did mothers with lower B6 intakes. All but one of the 25 mothers, however, had B6 intakes considered adequate.

The researchers tested the mothers' infants during the second week after delivery, using the Brazelton Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS). They found that infants whose mothers had the lowest levels of breast milk pyridoxal had the worst scores on the habituation and autonomic stability subtests of the NBAS, showing "greater evidence of tremors, startles, skin flushing, and irritability arising from difficulty regulating their levels of arousal in response to sensory stimulation."

Boylan et al. note that their findings are consistent with earlier research by McCullough et al., who found that breast milk vitamin B6 levels correlated significantly with infants' ability to be consoled, crying behavior, and response to aversive stimuli.

The researchers note that serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and other neurotransmitters are synthesized via pathways that require B6. They also cite earlier research questioning the adequacy of vitamin B6 levels in breast-fed infants of mothers taking only standard vitamin supplements. They conclude, "All mothers should be counseled by a registered dietitian about the importance of consuming a nutritionally adequate diet during pregnancy and lactation and provided with information on good dietary sources of vitamin B6."


"Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children's IQ at 4 years of age," I. B. Helland, L. Smith, K. Saarem, O. D. Saugstad, and C. A. Drevon, Pediatrics, Volume 111, No. 1, January 2003, e39-44. Address: I. B. Helland, Institute for Nutrition Research, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway, ingrid.helland@rikshospitalet.no.

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"Vitamin B6 content of breast milk and neonatal behavioral functioning," L. Mallory Boylan, Sybil Hart, Kathy B. Porter, and Judy A. Driskell, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Vol. 102, No. 10, October 1, 2002, 1433-8. Address: L. M. Boylan, Department of Education, Nutrition, Restaurant, and Hotel Management, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX 79409, mboylan@hs.ttu.edu.

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