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DHA, Crucial To Infant Brain Development, May Prevent ADHD, Depression

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Aug. 30--When a woman first learns that she's pregnant, she begins to think differently about the foods that go into her mouth, and eventually become the foundation of her baby's health. Catherine Jones, an award-winning cookbook author and Rose Ann Hudson, RD, LD, a perinatal nutritionist have written Eating For Pregnancy: The Essential Nutrition Guide and Cookbook for Today's Mothers-to-Be.

A top food in their book is wild salmon, known for its brain and eye boosting developmental properties (DHA). DHA they write is critical for a baby both in the womb and during infancy. In fact, they even list it as a top 10 food for conception.

DHA is the main component of the nervous system, of which the brain is a part. The brain is 70% developed at birth and continues growing afterward through the preschool years. DHA may be beneficial in the prevention of ADHD, as it is a crucial factor in brain development. (PubMed, Mar 2005) (Univ Maryland Medical Center)

"In regard to eye development, DHA is a fundamental component of the retina (30 to 50 percent of the retina is made of DHA). Deficiency is associated with poor night vision and other visual and spatial interpretation problems. Additional research results show that an increased intake of DHA through supplementation during pregnancy may help: --Prevent preterm delivery --Increase head circumference and birth weight --Benefit infant problem solving at nine months and infant visual acuity at four months of age --Prevent depression during pregnancy and postpartum"

A study appearing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Sep 2008) found that "moderate maternal fish intake" doesn't hurt the fetus, but in fact may help in its development. Further, omega-3 fatty acids which come through breast milk are essential to a child's development. Omega-3 consumption was tied with higher developmental scores.

Another study at the Universite Laval in Quebec City, has shown that Omega-3 intake during the last months of pregnancy boosts a baby's motor and cognitive development. For this study researchers evaluated the DHA concentration in the umbilical cord blood and compared it with the mother's blood level. The researchers concluded that benefits from eating fish with low contamination, such as trout, salmon, and sardines, "outweighed potential risks even during pregnancy."

Because of mercury worries, women have been eating less fish. However, researchers advise that women continue to eat fish, but choose fish lower in mercury contamination. (Larger, older fish contain more mercury.) The Mayo Clinic, FDA, and the EPA recommend women avoid: swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish. They state that women can safely eat up to 12oz or 340 grams a week of: shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, catfish, or cod.

If you'd like to eat wild salmon, skip the sushi. Raw fish is also on the No No list, as are uncooked seafoods labeled: nova-style, lox, kippered, smoked, or jerky. Women's recommends that pregnant women keep up to date with their state health department guidelines on locally caught fish or follow local fish advisories at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (

The Eating For Pregnancy authors write that the Food and Drug Administration recommends for the general public, not to exceed more than 3 grams/ 3,000 milligrams per day of EPA and DHA omega-3s, with no more than 2 grams/ 2,000 milligrams per day from a dietary supplement. High intake could lead to excessive bleeding in those taking anticoagulants. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not prescribe omega-3s or any other supplement for themselves.

Do consult your doctor. It has been found that omega-3s taken/eaten during pregnancy will quite possibly prevent postpartum depression. (PubMed, May 2002)

Other sources of omega-3s can now be found in DHA-enriched food products like orange juice, cereal, eggs, or pastas. Jones and Hudson add that wild salmon is available in the Eastern United States from May until the end of August. Alaska and the West Coast however, "enjoy a year-round supply." Second choice is wild canned salmon. Great recipes for wild salmon from Eating For Pregnancy include Roasted Salmon with Papaya Salsa and Sauteed Salmon on a Bed of Greens with Citrus Vinaigrette.

About The Authors

Catherine Jones is a graduate of La Varenne Culinary School in France. She has also authored Eating for Lower Cholesterol and A Year of Russian Feasts. As the wife of a foreign service officer, she travels the globe, but doesn't cut corners in her kitchen.

Rose Ann Hudson, RD, LD served on the staff of Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington, D.C. and on the staff of Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, Virginia. She currently has a private practice.

Eating For Pregnancy: The Essential Nutrition Guide and Cookbook for Today's Mothers-to-Be, 2ndEdition (Da Capo-Perseus Books Group/ 2009) by Catherine C. G. Jones and Rose Ann Hudson, RD, LD

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