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Omega-3s in Fish Can Improve Cognitive Performance

The Spanish Childhood and Environment project conducted a study on 2,000 pregnant women and their children to determine whether or not a diet high in fatty, omega-3-rich fish affected the cognitive performance of their children after birth.

The study began during the first trimester of pregnancy, and monitored the quantity of fish the women consumed during pregnancy. Follow-up exams were given to children who were born to those mothers. The study on children used the Child Asperger’s Syndrome Test.

The study found that those mothers ate more than 340 grams of fish per week produced children who scored higher on cognitive tests and had fewer traits listed on the autism spectrum. The children of mothers who ate the most fish seemed to benefit more: the study linked the mothers who ate 600 grams of fish per week to a 2.8-point increase in IQ over the children of those who ate less. It also appeared that eating plenty of fish early in the pregnancy, beginning in the first trimester, produced the strongest results.

This is important news, given that women in developing countries are often discouraged from eating large quantities of fish during pregnancy due to concerns over mercury contamination. Interestingly, the researchers did detect higher levels of mercury in the babies’ umbilical cords, but not find a negative correlation between this and the child’s future cognitive performance.

Past research on ocean fishes (which comprised much of the fish consumed by the mothers in this study) indicates that a lot of seafood contains high levels of selenium, which plays a role in reducing mercury accumulation in the body.

More research on this needs to be done, so pregnant women shouldn’t start piling on the ahi tuna steaks just yet, but this does offer some promising results for expecting mothers who enjoy fish and don’t want to negatively affect their baby’s development.

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