Boost Your Unborn Childs Brain! The Most Important Nutritional Supplement for a Healthier Pregnancy
Omega3 - Nutrition for the Pregnant Mother and Child
It is widely accepted that a woman’s nutritional needs change when she becomes pregnant. This includes both an increase, as well as a decrease of certain foods, drinks and supplements. While we all know that an increase in nutrients during this time is beneficial, however, just as an increase in certain nutrients can support fetal development, deficiency of a number of nutrients can lead to birth defects or complications.
Essential Fatty Acids (omega3 and omega6) in the correct ratio and quantify can offer exceptional benefits in terms of fetal development, the health of the mother-to-be and the health of the baby after being born.
How Can Omega3 Fatty Acids Help During Pregnancy?
It is becoming common knowledge that omega3 fatty acids are exceptionally important for human health. Unfortunately in most Western lifestyles our diets include dangerously low levels of omega3s and a level of omega6 fatty acids that is far too high. This shift in our diet can be very closely correlated with the increase in incidence of degenerative diseases over the past hundred years.
Omega3 and omega6 fatty acids are labeled‘essential’ because the body cannot synthesise them on its own. It relies upon a food source, and unfortunately, given the nature of the average, modern western diet – the majority of us severely lack a natural source of omega3 fatty acids, with omega6s are provided at damagingly high levels through cooking oils, butter etc. To compound this, the omega6 fatty acids that we do intake are often cooked or spoiled by heat, light and oxygen and have therefore become toxic to our bodies.
Hundreds of research studies have now proven, beyond doubt, that a diet including optimal levels of omega3 and 6 (in the correct ratio) on a regular/daily basis can lead to a myriad of health benefits, and can also help to prevent (and reverse) the symptoms of degenerative diseases such as cancers, cardiovascular disease, arthritis as well as Type 2 diabetes.
Other benefits that are gained from including omega3 and 6 essential fatty acids in your diet include a stronger immune system, stronger bones, an increase in energy, weight loss and healthier hair, nails and skin.
It is important to remember that pregnant women can experience a deficiency in omega3 fatty acids as more are required during pregnancy. This deficiency can be compounded after a woman’s first pregnancy as her maternal stores can become depleted, rarely returning to pre-pregnancy levels.
Omega3 fatty acids are vital to healthy fetal development. A deficiency can easily occur with modern, Western diets and supplementation has been recommended by many researchers, health experts and doctors (not only for pregnant women, but for everyone!).
During fetal development, omega3 fatty acids are especially important for neural development and cell growth. Throughout pregnancy, omega3’s supply ‘brain food’ to the fetus, as important brain and eye development takes place during fetal development, continuing well into the child’s infant years. In fact, the lack of omega3 fatty acids during pregnancy and during the formative years after birth have been discovered to be a critical element for both the neurological and visual development of the baby. DHA is especially vital, as fetus cannot produce DHA efficiently independently.
In fact, research has shown that by adding omega3 and omega6 fatty acids to the mothers diet during pregnancy can almost certainly have a very positive effect on the child’s cognitive abilities. These effects have even been proven to exist in the development of the child until the age of four!
Perhaps, even more critically, studies have shown that effective supplementation of omega3 fatty acids during pregnancy can greatly decrease the likelihood of complications such as pre term labour, and pre-eclampsia (toxemia) – a significant contributor to maternal mortality.
Research is proving beyond doubt that omega3 supplementation is almost vital during pregnancy and can greatly increase the health and development of both the child and the mother. However, it is recommended that these fatty acids are not added solely to the diet through consuming fish or fish based supplements. There are growing concerns regarding the toxicity of fish, particularly from mercury poisoning. A safer option would be to seek specific pre-natal supplements, or those such as Udo’s Choice which contain only plant based fatty acids.
Infant/Child Behaviour and Development
Modern research is showing a strong link between infant/child behaviour and nutrition. Over the past thirty years, the focus of this research has turned to omega3 fatty acids and their role in the behavioural development and learning skills. ADHD, in particular, has been very closely associated with omega3 fatty acid deficiency both in terms during pregnancy and in the infants diet until at least the age of four. Research has shown that infants with lower omega3 levels are more likely to suffer behavioural problems including hyperactivity, impulsivity, anxiety, temper problems and unsettled sleep patterns.
Interest in this area was first shown following a breakthrough study in 1981 which hypothesised that children with ADHD are more likely to have a diminished nutritional status of EFAs due to them showing greater thirst than non-ADHD children.
This study was further strengthened two years later, when EFA levels were measured in 23 children diagnosed with behavioural disorders and 20 average children. The results showed clearly that the children with behavioural problems were significantly deficient in EFAs.
More recently, a UK-based study has been undertaken and monitored by the BBC to show the effects of nutritional supplements of omega3 fatty acids on the behaviour of children. The study has focused upon both infants (as young as 20 months) and children up to the age of 12. The children were assessed on their reading skills, IQ, spelling, behaviour and motor skills over a period of six weeks. The study was led by Dr Madelene Portwood of the Durham Local Education Authority and the Durham Sure Start trial and she concluded that ‘The performance of almost 60 per cent of the children has improved dramatically…some two-year-olds went from having a vocabulary of 25 single words to being able to use whole sentences while others were able to sit down and concentrate for the first time in their lives’.
Post Natal Depression
It has long been accepted that using supplements of omega3 fatty acids can play a vital role in treating and preventing depression. When considering the increased requirement for omega3s during pregnancy and the depletion of a mother’s omega3 reserves after giving birth it is no surprise that an omega3 deficiency may play a role in post-natal depression.
A major UK study on over 11,000 women has found that the more omega3 fatty acids consumed by women during the third trimester, the less likely she was to suffer from depression both during pregnancy and for the eight months after giving birth.
The reason behind EFAs being so effective at reducing depression is that they are used extensively by the brain through many different functions. Omega3s are converted by the body into both EPA and then DHA. The majority of the human brain is comprised of DHA, and a deficiency of DHA has been linked to the Alzheimer’s epidemic. Low levels of EFAs are also highly associated with low levels of serotonin, the major brain chemical that is responsible for our mood levels. Low serotonin levels almost always results in depression.
Pregnant women and new mothers should definitely consider supplementing their diet with omega3 fatty acids. The nutritional benefits are manifold both during pregnancy and in everyday life. Most significantly, the intake of omega3 fatty acids during pregnancy can prevent pre term delivery, improve the babies neural development, retina development, skin and cell health, reduce the likelihood of behavioural problems and can also help prevent the mother from experiencing prenatal and postnatal depression.
On top of the non-pregnancy related benefits, this subject is certainly worth further research and consideration.
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