A new study has revealed that fatty acids contained in fish oil, known as n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, are vitally important to the developing brain. Dietary deficiencies of these fatty acids can limit brain growth during fetal development and early in life.
Susana Cohen-Cory, professor of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), said, "Deficiency of the fatty acids cause molecular changes in the developing brain that result in constrained growth of brain cells and the synapses that connect them." These findings suggest that women should maintain a balanced diet rich in the fatty acids for themselves during pregnancy and for their babies after birth.
N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are precursors of docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, which plays a key role in the healthy creation of the central nervous system. Dietary DHA is mainly found in animal products such as fish, eggs and meat. Oily fish like mackerel, herring, salmon, trout and sardines are the richest dietary source, containing 10 to 100 times more DHA than non-marine foods such as nuts, seeds, whole grains and dark green, leafy vegetables.
During the animal study, the UCI researchers were able to see how DHA-deficient brain tissue fostered poorly developed neurons and limited numbers of synapses, the vital conduits that allow neurons to communicate with each other. Cohen-Cory said, "Additionally, when we changed the diets of DHA-deficient mothers to include a proper level of this dietary fatty acid, neuronal and synaptic growth flourished and returned to normal in the following generation of tadpoles."
The study is published in The Journal of Neuroscience.