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Fish Oil

Fish oil during pregnancy could boost baby's coordination

Women who take high doses of fish oils during pregnancy could dramatically boost their children's coordination, say researchers.

A new study reveals the benefits of using so-called "clever capsules" to help develop the full potential of babies while still in the womb

It found a significant advance in hand-eye coordination among toddlers whose mothers took fish oil supplements during the second half of pregnancy compared with those who did not.

There was also improvement in brainpower and vocabulary among children exposed to fish oil supplements in the womb, says the study published on Thursday online in the medical journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

It is the latest evidence to highlight how omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oils can enhance children's development.

Omega 3 fatty acids play an important part in the development of the central nervous system.

The last three months of pregnancy are thought to be a key time for intake of fish oil because there is a growth spurt in the human brain during this time, which carries on into the first few months of a baby's life.

Other research suggests cod liver oil taken during pregnancy may increase birthweight and reduce the risk of the baby developing type 1 diabetes.

But as well as immediate benefits to the child, studies show fish oils can help mums-to-be in a number of ways, including reducing high blood pressure and easing post-natal depression.

The latest study from the University of Western Australia looked at 98 pregnant women, who were either given 4g of fish oil supplements or 4g of olive oil supplements daily from 20 weeks of pregnancy to the bith of their babies.

When the children reached the age of two and a half, they were given various tests measuring growth and development.

Children whose mothers had taken fish oil supplements scored significantly higher in hand-eye coordination than those whose mothers had taken olive oil supplements.

Fish oil children also scored more highly on comprehension, phrase length and vocabulary - even after allowing for factors such as the age of the mother and breastfeeding.

Only non-smokers and those who did not routinely eat more than two weekly portions of fish were included in the study.

Professor Susan Prescott, who led the study, said: "These preliminary data indicate that supplementation with a relatively high-dose fish oil during the last 20 weeks of pregnancy is not only safe but also seems to have potential beneficial effects that need to be explored further".

Concern over the mercury content in certain types of fish means high quality fish oil supplements have become increasingly popular.

The Food Standards Agency's most recent advice is that pregnant and breast-feeding women should eat one or two portions of oily fish a week, avoiding those with high mercury content such as swordfish.

The latest research comes amid calls for free fish oil supplements to be given to schoolchildren, as trials suggest they can benefit those with behavioural problems as well as improving performance.

Dr Alex Richardson, director of the Food and Behavioural Research charity and author of "They Are What Your Feed Them" about fish oils, carried out groundbreaking research using them to help pupils with learning and other difficulties.

She said, "I'm not at all surprised by the findings, which demonstrate the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids to the developing brain.

"Pregnant women have been scared off eating fish because of the mercury risks but they can take high quality capsules if they are concerned.

"Omega 3 is vital at all stages of life. There is international proof of the benefits for people with heart conditions and we are heading that way with studies on children's learning and behaviour."

In heart disease, patients are recommended to take a 1g fish oil capsule a day - four times less than the study.

London GP Dr Sarah Jarvis, chairman of International Cod Liver Omega 3 Foundation, said there was no doubt that few Britons were eating enough fish, including pregnant women, and supplements were a good substitute.

She said, "The evidence is very good for the effects of omega 3 on the developing brain but I would caution against the very high doses used in this study. I believe you would still get benefits from lower doses."

Dr Pamela Mason, on behalf of the UK Health Supplements Information Service, said: "This is an exciting and interesting study because it is the first to look at the effect, and show benefits, of high dose fish oil in the second half of pregnancy on the child's eye and hand co-ordination.

"But I would recommend that pregnant women who want to try this dose should consult their doctor first.

"What is clear, however, is that omega 3s are essential in pregnancy for the mother and the child and average UK intake is less than half the recommended levels," she added.

(Source Jenny Hope, Daily Mail December 21 2006)

How fish oils help stave off dementia

Fish oil may protect against Alzheimer's by combating harmful brain plaques which lead to the disease.

Research shows that an omega 3 fatty acid found in fish oil boosts production of a beneficial protein that can stop the plaques developing.

Although previous studies have shown that fish oils - taken by pill or in the diet - may delay or even prevent Alzheimer's, it is the first time scientists have identified why they have a beneficial effect.

The study, published yesterday in the Journal of Neuroscience, revealed the omega 3 fatty acid DHA ( docosahexaenoic acid) increases the production of LR11, a protein found at reduced levels in Alzheimer's patients.

LR11 has already been shown to destroy the brain plaques which kill brain cells.

Salmon, mackerel and trout contain the highest levels of fatty acids, he added, but it was not yet certain how much needed to be eaten to stave off dementia.

Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia, affecting over 700,000 Britons.

About 500 new cases are diagnosed every day as more people live longer.

(Source Daily Mail December 27 2007)