Fish oil supplements have been invading pharmacy shelves over the past few years due to the many virtues being attributed to them, including cardiovascular disease prevention, depression treatment and optimal brain development in children. These fatty acids are considered important in fetal brain development, but do they really have an impact on intelligence?
A new study conducted in Spain suggests that fish oil supplements taken during pregnancy have no impact on intelligence quotient (IQ) measurements when the children reach the age of six. These results support those of an earlier Norwegian study that also found no increase in IQ measurements among children whose mothers had taken fish oil supplements while pregnant and breastfeeding.
In the Spanish study, researchers asked pregnant women to take a fish oil and folate supplement, folate alone or a placebo for the second half of their pregnancies. When intelligence tests were conducted six years later, the children performed similarly on the tests, regardless of the supplement their mothers had taken. Given the small scale of this study (only 154 children were involved), it’s possible that the researchers were unable to detect a small difference in the IQ test results.
This study doesn’t mean that fish oil supplements are not important, however. In fact, the researchers noted that the children whose mothers had high levels of DHA (a fatty acid found in fish oil) in their red blood cells around the time they gave birth scored above average on the intelligence test. These mothers, interestingly, were not necessarily those who had been given supplements. Rather, the result could reflect the mothers' intake of DHA from dietary sources. In addition, the study did not take into account the children’s diet, which could also have influenced their development.
To optimize your baby’s development, put the odds on your side by eating a balanced and varied diet and adopting a healthy lifestyle during your pregnancy.