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Since omega-3s are so critical for brain function, it's not surprising that the quantity of omega-3s in infants' diets can have a significant impact on brain development.


In an important study which commenced in Cambridge, Ipswich, Kings Lynn, Norwich, and Sheffield in 1982 and 1983, investigators kept track of 210 babies who received mother's milk and 90 babies who were fed only formula. Mother's milk is an excellent source of omega-3 fat, while formula contains none..

At the age of 18 months, developmental scores were obtained for all 300 toddlers, and at the ages of seven to eight, IQ was assessed in the children using the Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children. Developmental scores were higher at 18 months, and IQ was greater at seven to eight years in the children fed breast milk. In fact, IQ scores were eight to 10 points higher in the breast milk-fed kids!

The research team, a group of distinguished British paediatricians, was able to remove most of the problems associated with this kind of research. For example, the breast-fed children received mother's milk through a tube, eliminating the likelihood that the close bond between mother and child associated with suckling had provided the IQ bonus. And even when the higher social status and educational backgrounds of the mothers who chose to breast feed were adjusted for statistically, the intelligence advantage associated with breast-milk intake remained..

Critics have contended that choosing to provide breast milk is an indicator of the tenaciousness of a mother, and that this tenaciousness carries over into the nurturing provided to the child, boosting IQ. However, mothers who chose to furnish breast milk but were then unable to produce milk had kids with IQs similar to those of kids whose mothers chose to dish out formula. There was simply something special in mother's milk! Overall, getting breast milk raised IQ by about eight points, while higher educational status for the mother nudged IQ up by just two points. Being female rather than male lifted IQ by four points, so mother's milk was easily the most important IQ-raising factor detected in the study. The researchers also unearthed a 'dose-response' relationship between mother's milk and IQ. Those children who had received more maternal milk were sharper than kids who had imbibed less, particularly with regard to verbal measures of intelligence..

What exactly was so good about mother's milk? The researchers pointed the finger at our old friend DHA, which is not present in infant formula but which occurs in decent concentrations in human breast milk. As the investigators pointed out, DHA is accumulated in large quantities in the developing brain and retina and is crucial for overall mental development..

What is the practical meaning of all of this? The addition of fish to your diet several times weekly may decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease and depression. Research suggests that a dietary intake of .5 to 1.0 grams of omega-3 fat per day reduces the risk of cardiovascular death in middle-age men by about 40 per cent, but current actual intake in the United States is only .05 grams daily. If you want to use supplements to obtain more omega-3 fats, experts contend that the supplement should contain high amounts of EPA and DHA but little or no cholesterol or vitamins A and D. Vitamin E should be added to prevent the omega-3s from being oxidized.


Lauren Ayers

James Curiel, PhD
Professor, Sociology

Don Glines
Educational Futures

Hasan Hanks

Jeanie Keltner, PhD
Editor, Because People Matter

Michael J. Kwiker, D.O.

William Mora, M.D.
Health Associates Medical Group

Susan Montoya

Cynthia Mulcaire

Carlina Nowrocki

Robert O’Brien, MA

Suiying Saechao
Member LEAF at Hiram Johnson HS

Charity Smith
President Youth Congress at Sac High