Prenatal and Infant Health

High Omega-6 Fatty Acids in Breast Milk and Child’s Risk of Asthmatic Symptoms

One of the advantages of breastfeeding may be a lower risk that the child will develop symptoms of allergic disease. Studies have reported a lower occurrence of asthma in breastfed Canadian, U.S. and Dutch children, but one study reported a higher risk of asthma and wheeze in breastfed children whose mothers were asthmatic. Children whose mothers ate oily fish during pregnancy were also less likely to develop asthma in some studies, while children whose mothers consumed diets rich in linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, experienced a higher risk of…

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Omega-3s Given to High-Risk Infants After Birth Suggest Improved Immune Function

To evaluate whether long-chain omega-3 fatty acids might improve the occurrence or symptoms of allergic disease in infants at high risk of these conditions, investigators have often provided the omega-3s through the mother’s diet. It is generally believed that the earlier an infant is exposed to these fatty acids, the greater the likelihood of benefit. However, findings have been contradictory and inconsistent. We still cannot say with confidence that providing these fatty acids through maternal supplementation in pregnancy will help the offspring. There is enough encouraging evidence of some benefit…

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Higher Reading Scores in DHA-Supplemented Children with Low Baseline Scores

Brain function depends on having all its systems working well together. Damage to the brain from injury or disease, impaired production of transmitter molecules or insufficient amounts of substances needed for brain responses are some ways brain function can go awry. DHA, a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid is important for the structure of brain cells and for brain function. When it is not available in sufficient amounts in early life, brain development and learning may be slowed or harmed. There is evidence of this in suboptimal visual function, childhood learning…

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Maternal PUFAs, Not Methylmercury, Associated with Child’s Language Scores

The importance of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in brain development and learning is well known. Less clear are the effects of these fatty acids on specific outcomes, such as language development. Some studies have reported no differences in vocabulary or language development with higher intake of long-chain PUFAs or DHA, a long-chain omega-3 PUFA. Others have observed transient effects of DHA supplementation in early infancy on later language development and some have reported improved language scores with higher levels of DHA in blood. Yet others have reported language deficits…

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Fish Consumption in Pregnancy Linked to Fewer Symptoms of ADHD Behavior in Child

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a common childhood behavioral disorder, may be increasing. Worldwide, ADHD affects about 8% to 12% of school-age children, with some estimates closer to 5%. In the U.S., the prevalence increased from 7.5% to 9.0% from 2001 to 2007. As the criteria for determining ADHD have changed, more cases may be identified. Even with uncertain numbers, the condition puts a burden on families, teachers and health care providers, as treatments are limited. We do not know the causes of ADHD, but genetic and environmental factors, such as…

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Postnatal Omega-3 Supplementation in High-Risk Infants Improves Immune Function

Many studies have explored the effects of increased intake of n-3 LC-PUFAs on the occurrence and symptoms of allergic disease, especially in infants at high risk of developing atopy. Most research has examined the outcomes of maternal supplementation with these fatty acids during pregnancy. As described in the preceding article, results have generally shown that the overall incidence of allergic disease is not significantly reduced, but symptoms may be delayed and less severe. Reduced sensitization to certain allergens has also been reported. Some studies have reported no significant effects, while…

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Maternal Dietary Fatty Acids and Risk of Allergic Disease in the Offspring at Age 5

Attempts to determine the cause(s) of the increased prevalence of allergic diseases in Western countries have led to the investigation of how dietary fatty acids and other factors might affect the susceptibility to and severity of allergic diseases, especially in infants and children. In recent decades, the consumption of omega-6 (n-6) PUFAs has increased dramatically, while that of omega-3 (n-3) PUFAs, especially of the long-chain n-3 LC-PUFAs, has diminished. This has resulted in lower tissue concentrations of n-3 LC-PUFAs. High levels of n-6 PUFAs in conjunction with low concentrations of…

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Breast Milk Fatty Acids and Risk of Asthma and Allergen Sensitivity in Infancy

Is breastfeeding linked to the development of infant and childhood allergies? The Canadian Early Childhood Development study reported that infants who were breastfed for more than 3 months were significantly less likely to develop asthma during the preschool years. This study also observed that wheezing before the age of 2 was associated with a higher risk of preschool-age asthma. Reduced risk of asthma in U.S. children who had ever been breastfed was also noted in the NHANES survey, 1988-1994. A study in the Netherlands reported that children who had been…

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Higher Maternal PUFAs Not Methylmercury Associated with Language Scores at Age 5

The importance of long-chain PUFAs, especially arachidonic and docosahexaenoic acids, in fetal and infant development is now well recognized, yet the consumption of fish and seafoods, the primary food source of the omega-3 long-chain PUFAs (n-3 LC-PUFAs), is clouded by concerns about the developmental effects of contaminants. All fish contain some mercury in the form of methylmercury, a known neurotoxin. Yet fish consumption in pregnancy at levels above the U.S. recommended amount is most often associated with better performance scores on tests of cognition and behavior in the offspring, even…

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No Less Gestational Diabetes or Preeclampsia with DHA Supplementation in Pregnancy

Preeclampsia, a condition of hypertension and proteinuria that may develop late in pregnancy, and gestational diabetes mellitus are two of the most common medical complications of pregnancy. Women with hypertension prior to pregnancy are more likely to develop preeclampsia, which then increases the risk of preterm delivery. Preeclampsia and eclampsia together are among the top 3 causes of maternal morbidity and mortality worldwide. Preeclampsia affects 3% to 5% of all US pregnancies, but the prevalence is higher in developing countries with limited access to prenatal care. The risk of developing…

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