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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 6 February, 2001, 10:37 GMT
Mother's fishy diet boosts children
Mackerel
Mackerel is just one oily fish containing DHA
Women who eat oily fish while pregnant have children with better visual development, a major study suggests.

The finding, by researchers at Bristol University, found the benefit among women who ate oily fish as little as once a fortnight.

Oily fish examples
Mackerel
Herring
Trout
Salmon
Sardines
Women who breastfed their children also found their eyesight increased faster than normal.

When combined with other, as yet unpublished, study results, the suggestion is that proteins found in breast milk and oily fish speed brain development in children.

The Bristol team looked at more than 400 children aged three-and-a-half as part of the "Children of the 90s" project, which is looking at more than 14,000 local children.

Fortnightly dose

The project's ophthalmologist, Dr Cathy Williams, said: "As far as we know, this is the first time that diet in pregnancy has been shown to be associated with a child's visual development.

"We are not suggesting that pregnant women run out to the supermarket and strip the shelves of canned fish, as the women we looked at only ate the fish once a fortnight."

The ingredient of oily fish which is thought to provide the benefit is DHA, a fatty acid which is an essential building block of nerve cell membranes in the brain.

Oily fish is thought to be the richest dietary source of DHA. Breast milk also contains DHA, although formula milk does not.

The finding may intensify calls for fish oils to be added to formula baby milk.

The latest research is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Dr Williams conceded that children apparently left behind by their fast-developing peers may catch up later in life.

Her team is now testing seven-year-olds.

"All we can say is that we have made the observations we have made and whether people eat oily fish or not should depend on a whole range of information," she said.

Fish oils are already a well known diet supplement for adults, thought to reduce the risk of heart disease.

See also:

17 Jan 01 | Health
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