In a previous article, I spoke about the importance of choline intake for pregnant and nursing mothers. In this article, I’ll talk about the Omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These are the main two fatty acids that are present in fish oils, which are responsible for their health-giving qualities. There are many health benefits to these nutrients, but I’ll focus on pre- and post-natal nutrition in this article.
These nutrients are considered conditionally essential, meaning that it is not absolutely necessary to consume DHA and EPA from your diet as your body can synthesize them through other fats. However, at the end of this article I’ll discuss how that process can easily be impeded making it much more efficient to supplement your diet with these.
Adequate amounts of DHA and EPA are critical for optimal brain function in the pre- and post-natal phases of development. [By the way, this is also true for adults.] During the last trimester and the first two years out of the womb, the brain grows rapidly. This developmental stage has been coined, the “brain growth spurt”. Some of the proven benefits of DHA and EPA during this time are the development of visual and other sensory functions, cognitive function (or mental processes that include perception, memory, judgment and reason), behavior management, and mood control. Therefore, lack of adequate amounts of DHA and EPA can (and most likely will) compromise these brain functions. DHA has been found to have the most beneficial effects, so I’ll be focusing that. However, DHA and EPA are found together in nature.
Essentially, DHA is critical for nerve function. To keep it simple, here is list of four findings related to DHA and nervous system function: 1) “Laboratory animals with experimentally induced omega-3 deficiencies show deficits in retinal structure, visual acuity, and cognitive performance.”
2) “In animals whose brain concentrations of DHA were severely reduced, dietary supplementation with DHA restored control performance levels.” This is saying that supplementation with DHA after it was restricted allowed the animals to regain the brain functions that were diminished as a result of the subsequent lack of DHA.
3) “Studies with human infants suggest supplementation with DHA in formula or by boosting maternal levels enhances neuromotor development.” Motor function refers to the physical movements of the body.
4) “Application of a wide range of tests yielded a positive association between breastfeeding and infant mental performance.” Breast milk contains DHA.
Note how some of the findings came about through supplementation. This is important because it can be extremely difficult to get adequate amounts through dietary intake. The best dietary source of DHA and EPA is fish. Unfortunately though, most fish contain the (neuro)toxic heavy metal mercury. Read my article on the subject if you are not familiar with this issue. Also, please keep in mind that simply taking an over-the-counter supplement of fish oil may not be your best bet either. The dietary supplement industry is not regulated. In my opinion, there are pros and cons to this, with the pros outweighing the cons, but I’ll leave politics aside. The cons are that anyone can sell a supplement and write whatever they please on the label. Hence, the quality controls may be greatly lacking. Your best bet is to work with a licensed health care practitioner who uses supplements from reliable, respectable, quality supplement manufacturers. You certainly don’t want to be taking a fish oil supplement that hasn’t been properly distilled to remove mercury and other contaminants.
The last point I want to get at is that although your body can synthesize DHA and EPA from other oils (e.g.: flax, chia, and hemp); however that process can easily be impeded. Factors affecting the conversion include: 1) a deficiency in vitamin B3, B6, and C; and the minerals magnesium and zinc. 2) alcohol intake 3) trans fats (or partially hydrogenated oils) 4) diabetes 5) excess amounts of insulin in the bloodstream
Good luck and let’s all help make the next generation a happy and healthy one!
Dr. Robert D’Aquila – NYC Chiropractor – Applied Kinesiology
source: Alternative Medicine Review; Volume 12, Number 3, 2007 – “Omega-3 DHA and EPA for Cognition, Behavior, and Mood: Clinical Findings and Structural-Functional Synergies with Cell Membrane Phospholipids” Parris M. Kidd, PhD