09 Dec The Secret To Having A Smart Baby – Part 2
Essential Nutrients for childhood development
As a Natural Health Practitioner, my greatest passion is helping couples prepare for conception making sure that they will have the healthiest baby possible.
In part two, I review the nutrients that are essential for early child development.
What role do essential fats play?
Omega 3 Essential fatty acids role in development.
An essential nutrient is one that our body must consume and cannot make itself. The body can catalyse or make many nutrients. These are not essential as the body can create them from other raw ingredients. Omega 3 fats are the only essential fat.
Most people are aware of some the benefits of omega 3 or ALA (alpha-linoleic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). DHA supports neuronal development working in conjunction with choline, folate, vitamin D, iron and iodine. Recent research from 2016 shows that only 10% of women of childbearing age meet the recommended DHA intake. (1)
We have an overabundance of omega 6 in our diet from meat and dairy as opposed to omega 3. It is so important for neuronal development researchers are studying it in detail. Research from 2019 has shown that prenatal omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio is associated with higher rates of ADHD. (2)
Can we get enough through diet alone?
The main foods that support higher levels of omega 3 are nuts, seeds and fish, specifically oily small fish such as mackerel, sardines & anchovies. There is a lesser amount in fish such as salmon, tuna, snapper and swordfish. The disadvantage of regularly eating larger fish is that the larger the fish the higher the content of carcinogens such as heavy metals, digoxins & phthalates.
Seeds such as flax are high in omega-three however, they are not naturally high in the EPA and DHA that are so essential for development and health. ALA can be converted into EPA and then to DHA, but the conversion (which occurs primarily in the liver) is very limited, with reported rates of less than 15% . Therefore, consuming EPA and DHA directly from foods and/or dietary supplements is the only practical way to increase levels of these fatty acids in the body.
Individual needs for omega three are around 1 g of omega per 10 kg of body weight. When you consider that plant sources mainly contain ALA and we only convert 15% of this, then unless you are eating over 100g of fatty small fish per day, you are going to need to supplement.
Vegan or vegetarian sources
For vegan or vegetarian mothers to be who want a plant source of omega 3 the best form is Algal oil sourced from microalgae, most vegetarians and vegans will be getting most of their omega 3’s from Flaxseed or hemp seed oil which is totally inadequate during pregnancy given that you convert so little to EPA and DHA. Omega-three from marine algae, however, is much higher. For instance, the Nordic naturals brand that we stock contains 700mg total omega 3 and 390 mg of DHA to 195 mg of EPA. The amount of this supplement required during pregnancy for vegetarian and vegan mothers is 1 per 7 kg.
Nuts and seeds are not mentioned as even though high in ALA you will only be able to convert 15% of ALA to EPA & DHA. EPA & DHA deliver nutritional value to the developing child so if you are looking for plant sources we currently recommend supplementation from algae sources.
|Omega three content
Daily needs = 1 g per 10 kg of body wt. So if you are 70 g you need 7 g a day
Using the guide below you can see that most people would need to consume 200 g of fish per day to get adequate EPA & DHA.
|Mackerel 100g||4 g|
|Salmon 100g||4 g|
So how do we know if you are low in Omega 3?
- Assess your diet using the above table.
- Use the new Omega 3 index test, developed by American Researchers. This is a new test we offer at NatMed. To find out more by watching this video.
- Get your blood under a microscope and test for viscosity. Highly viscous or thick blood indicates a deficiency. Thin cell membranes when viewed under a microscope also indicates a deficiency. We do live blood microscopy for all our patients.
Are there other benefits to ingesting omega 3 in pregnancy? (5) Definitely!
- DHA supports a longer gestation period
- Greater birth weight
- Greater length
- Increased head circumference
Omega 3 EFA’s may also reduce the risk of allergies including
- Persistent wheeze and asthma
- Food allergies
The importance of vitamin D
With all this sunshine in WA, why are we still deficient in D?
Lack of ozone drives us to slip slop slap on the sunscreen, use UV reflective glass and the high temps keep us indoors. Combine these factors with rapidly appearing mutations on vitamin D receptor genes and there is no wonder we are all getting diagnosed with osteoporosis in later age.
There currently is not harmonisation between labs on the reference range but the consensus is that a blood result <55 indicates a deficiency. Recent research, however, suggests that patients with poor immunity or chronic health issues need a vitamin D of above 125.
Many women I have treated at NatMed who get adequate sun exposure have been found to be below the recommended range – this makes it essential to test during preconception.
The benefits for the pregnant mother are (6)
- Less risk of preeclampsia
- Lower risk of gestational diabetes
- Lower risk of bacterial vaginosis and
- Bone health
Vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy is linked to autism-related traits. (7)
High maternal vitamin D levels in early pregnancy are protective against behavioural difficulties especially ADHD like symptoms at preschool age.
Together with omega-three adequate vitamin D may protect against childhood allergies, such as eczema, and asthma
Emerging research on the importance of nutrition in pregnancy means that testing prior to or early into conception is a ‘no brainer’.
To test for vitamin D, a simple blood test is available via our nurse practitioner. To test for adequate omega three levels, you can either do a dietary assessment or come in and do a live blood test. In addition to these, if you and your family are concerned about any of the risks mentioned in this article you can use a swathe of additional functional tests such as genetic work ups to ensure you have the healthiest baby possible. Who knows where this may lead? Super babies may be the next step in our evolution.
Interested in a 15-minute scoping session to see if I’m the right fit for you and your health needs? Click the ‘Book Appointment’ button below.
(3) Harris WS. Omega-3 fatty acids. In: Coates PM, Betz JM, Blackman MR, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. 2nd ed. London and New York: Informa Healthcare; 2010:577-86.