Omega 3 and the brain
Professor Ephraim Yavin,
recently retired as director of neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute for Science in Israel, described experiments in foetal rats showing that depletion of omega 3 fatty acids during the pregnancy restricted the cell
migration of neurones needed for the creation of the brain
cortex and hence intelligence.
However, providing DHA enhanced cell migration. This may explain why diets poor in omega 3-rich seafood appear to lead to poor cognitive development and behavioural disorders in the new born.
Dr Manuela Martinez of the Manuela Martinez Foundation for Children with Metabolic
Diseases (www.martinezfoundation.org), showed pictures of tiny babies who, unlike normal infants who sit up and look at the holder, were limp and slumped backwards like freshly killed chickens. Other pictures showed babies with sadly misformed faces and eyes.
Dr Martinez then showed pictures of these babies, now bright and healthy, after two, three and four months of caring treatment with high levels (200mg per day) of the essential fatty acid, DHA.
Cystic fibrosis and PKU
Professor John Dodge, professor of child health at the
University of Wales, described how the real advances in the major gene disorders had not come from the human genome project but from better management of diet and metabolism. Moreover, although cystic fibrosis and phenylketonuria (PKU – a condition leading to toxic build up in the brain, progressive mental retardation and seizures) had been thought of as single gene disorders, there are over 100 variations in cystic fibrosis. A better understanding of these disorders is vital.
The Reverend Simon House of the McCarrison Society described the importance of nutrition from before conception, through gestation to early life. He pointed to the experience of the Dutch during World War II when the incidence of perinatal mortality and morbidity peaked when conception followed the worst food shortages. Further evidence of the importance of nutrition prior to and at the point of conception was later provided when the women conceived at the time of severe food shortages themselves gave birth, years later, to a higher than average number of low birth weight children.
He highlighted the importance of both nutritional and emotional environment on the development of the brain in
particular, suggesting that
modern mass produced foods and chemical pollution can
seriously distort our epigenetics and physiology.
Autism and omega 3s
Dr Natalie Sinn from the
University of Adelaide, South Australia, described work on cognitive behavioural therapies and parental influences on children’s diets.
She used case histories to
illustrate the success of omega 3 DHA and EPA supplementation in violent and disruptive autistic boys. She also described some double-blind trials with promising results.
ADHD, dyslexia and omega 3
Dr Alex Richardson from the University of Oxford described some of the remarkable results that emerged from their
Oxford-Durham randomised, controlled trial of dietary supplementation with fatty acids in children with developmental coordination disorder (not to be confused with ‘The Durham Trial – Using fatty acids for learning conditions’, run by the local county council).
She pointed out that DHA was used structurally (to build brains) and EPA functionally (to make then work properly). EPA was particularly important in allowing cells to communicate eg in signalling.
She also showed how dietary changes within the family markedly improved the behaviour, happiness and intellectual achievements of these children.
Omega 3s and violence
Dr Bernard Gesch described the very significant reduction (37%) in violent incidents among young prisoners when given nutritional supplements including essential fatty acids. Dr Gesch has recently obtained funding to repeat his study on a much larger scale.
Dr Gesch pointed out that although the brain was only 2% of the body it consumed 20% of its energy. The foetal brain, however, consumes 70% of the energy available while 12% goes into cardiac output.
Finally, Dr Jo Brierley of the Institute of Child Health raised serious questions about the ethics of carrying out research on children. How can very young children give informed consent? What rules should we apply? What drugs should be used? What is the evidence of the efficacy of drugs for use on children if we do not trial them on children?
Several unfortunate incidents have illustrated the
dangers of using adult data in the treatment of children and therefore the importance of
research on children. Children are not small adults.
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First Published in 2009
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