DHA Status of Mothers Related to Better Attention of Toddlers

January 7, 2010


Maternal DHA Levels and Toddler Free-Play Attention
Kannas et al., Developmental Neuropsychology, 34: 159 – 174 , 2009.
Department of Psychology , Loyola University, Chicago, Illinois, USA


The research team evaluated the relationship between maternal DHA omega-3 status at the time of the infants’ birth and the subsequent attentional functioning of their toddlers at 12 and 18 months. This research was of particular interest since DHA is considered to be physiologically-essential in neuronal tissue at appropriate concentrations to support optimal cognitive functioning . Further, DHA levels increase markedly with brain development during the first 2 years of life and continue to increase thereafter based on measures in the cerebral cortex up to 18 years of age ( Brain Res. Bull., 56: 79-85 (2001). In the present study, the DHA status of the mothers was determined by measuring DHA (via gas-liquid chromatographic procedures) in red blood cell (RBC) samples as prepared following blood collections at the time of birth . Toddler attention measures were conducted using different objects for the play-free tasks depending on the toddlers’ ages (12 or 18 months) as standardized by the experimenters. The measures included the total duration of looking, total number of episodes of inattention, average length of looks to the toys, and the total number of looks to the toys . The toddlers of mothers with a higher DHA status were found to be more attentive (more looking and fewer episodes of inattention ) that those from mothers with a lower DHA status. At 12 and 18 months, the total number of inattention episodes were lower by an average of 15 % and 30 % , respectively, in the toddlers from mothers with the higher DHA status. The authors conclude that their research findings support evidence for a link between DHA and cognitive development in infancy and early childhood.

Dr. Holub's Comments:

While no official recommended intake (DRI) has yet come forth from the National Academy , Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board (Washington , DC) for DHA as an essential dietary nutrient during pregnancy, the Essential Fatty Acid Workshop (held in 1999 in Bethesda , Maryland at the NIH) recommended a minimal daily intake of 300 mg DHA for mothers during pregnancy. More recently, the World Association of Perinatal Medicine , the Early Nutrition Academy, and the Child Health Foundation advised that pregnant women should aim to achieve a daily intake of at least 200 mg DHA (Koletzko et al., J. Perinat. Med., 36: 5-14 (2008). Such an intake is well above current average intakes for most pregnant women in North America.

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