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Mon 1 Jan 2007 02:10 PM

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Antenatal fish oil boosts coordination

Fish oil supplements given to pregnant mothers improve the hand-eye coordination of their babies as toddlers, reports an Australian research team.

Fish oil supplements given to pregnant mothers improve the hand-eye coordination of their babies as toddlers, reports an Australian research team.

Dr Susan L. Prescott, of the University of Western Australia, and colleagues base their findings on a study of 98 pregnant women with allergies, who were either given 4g of fish oil supplements or 4g of olive oil supplements daily from 20 weeks of pregnancy, to birth.

The women were participating in a larger study to investigate whether fish oil would protect their children from allergies. The results were published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Fish oil provides an extra dose of long-chain fatty acids essential for normal neuronal and visual development, but no studies had been done to evaluate whether high doses are safe for the fetus. The team was unsure whether selective supplementation of 3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (n-3 LC PUFA) would displace other essential fatty acids.

The researchers analyzed developmental data from the larger randomised controlled trial looking at the risk of allergic disease. Women were randomised to 4g fish oil capsules daily, or 4g olive oil capsules daily as a control, from 20 weeks' gestation until birth.

When the babies were assessed at age 2.5 years, the researchers found no difference in physical growth between the fish oil and olive oil group. However, the children of women in the fish oil group had significantly higher hand-eye coordination scores on the Griffiths Mental Development Scale than those of the control group (114.0 versus 108.0). Despite adjustment for maternal age, maternal education and duration of breastfeeding, supplementation remained a significant independent factor.

Better hand-eye coordination scores were significantly correlated with higher levels of two kinds of n-3 fatty acids in cord blood erythrocytes; namely, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Adjustments did not alter the associations.

"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," the researchers concluded.

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