How is this fantastic dually beneficial feat possible? Three letters: D-H-A. DHA is an abbreviation for docosahexanoic acid. Here’s a little background on where DHA is found naturally occurring and how it helps reduce heart disease . . . and then, I will explain how it’s related to reduced post-partum depression and a smart baby.
Research appearing in the British Medical Journal in 2004 (Din J, Newby D, Flapan A. Omega 3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease–fishing for a natural treatment. BMJ 2004;328;30-35) found an association between omega 3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. This connection was based on observation that the Greenland Inuit people had low mortality from coronary heart disease despite a diet that is rich in fat. The high fat diet consisting of seal, whale, and fish was proposed to be high in omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids, along with omega 6 fatty acids, are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids for human physiological function.
The BMJ article found the Western diet is abundant in omega 6 fatty acids, which are mainly gleaned through vegetable oils (corn, canola, etc.). However, humans lack the necessary enzymes to convert omega 6 fatty acids to omega 3 fatty acids. Humans need omega 3 in order to avoid things like inflammation, pain, heart disease. But, omega 3 can only be obtained from separate dietary sources. Omega 3 is available fish and fish oils and the names of those compounds occurring in marine life are eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). Whew! Try to say those words 3 times, really fast.
According to the BMJ research, “consumption of omega 3 fatty acids is low [in western developed countries], at 0.1-0.2 gram per day.” Experts recommend taking 1 gram per day to prevent heart disease (after doing numerous study trials in the US and Britain). Consuming “omega 3 fatty acids can be increased through diet or with fish oil supplements. Oily fish such as mackerel, herring, tuna, salmon, sardines and trout are rich sources of [EPA] and [DHA], and two to three servings per week should provide approximately 1 g/day omega 3 fatty acids. Lean fish such as cod or haddock have smaller amounts, and fried fish (for example, from fast food establishments or frozen products) contains minimal amounts of omega 3 fatty acids.
So, eating more fish and/or taking fish oil capsules can help prevent heart disease. Here’s how DHA helps even more . . .
The Better Health News (4(5);2008 May;6) had a fantastic article: DHA and child development. “Research appearing in the European Journal of Nutrition, the amount of DHA found in blood in the umbilical cord during pregnancy has a positive association with the baby’s motor function later in life. Also, DHA levels are associated with a reduced risk of post-partum depression.”
The study followed 300+ children for a seven year period following birth. They found that children with higher levels of DHA in the umbilical cord scored higher on the Maastricht Motor test. “These findings are supported by research in Archives of Disease in Childhood (Fetal and Neonatal Edition) (published online 21 Dec. 2006), which found that omega 3 fatty acid supplementation in the pregnant mother created increased hand-eye coordination, improved scores for language comprehension, a tendency to use longer sentences and a better vocabulary when the children were tested at 2 1/2 [years of age. A total of] 72 children were tested; 33 in the group supplemented with fish oil and 39 comprised the control group.”
Here’s a great reason to avoid low levels of omega 3s. There is an association between ADHD as well as other behavioral disorders and low levels of omega 3 fatty acids according to research in Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids (75(4-5)2006 Oct-Nov;299-308).
So, eat your fish for great post-partum health for mama, athletic prowess and baby smarts, and heart health!