Many women consume fish oil supplements during pregnancy as it is believed that these have a positive impact on the intelligence of the child.

Fish oil supplements contain docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, which plays a pivotal role in the brain development of children. As a result, many pregnant women consume prenatal supplements rich in DHA or omega-3 fatty acids.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, however, reveals that consumption of fish oil-rich supplements during pregnancy does not lead to a visible improvement in a child's brain development.

The research, conducted by the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, also revealed that fish oil could lead to longer pregnancies; however, this needs further research.

"If a pregnant woman has a healthy, balanced diet, then the baby's brain development is not going to benefit from having these fish oil supplements," noted Jacqueline Gould, the co-author of the study to BBC.

How Was The Study Conducted?

For the purpose of the study, the researchers observed several women right from when they became pregnant up to when their child turned 7 years old. This observation period aided the team in ascertaining any alterations in the child's brain development.

The subjects were given a placebo or a fish oil supplement each day. The researchers discovered that the intelligence levels in children of participants who were given a DHA dose of 800 milligrams were not impacted.

"We randomized pregnant women to receive 800 mg of DHA daily or a placebo during the last half of pregnancy and found no group differences in cognitive, language, and motor development at 18 months of age, although secondary analyses revealed less cognitive delay but lower language scores in the DHA group," shared the researchers.

The children were tested again when they were 4 years old. The researchers did not find any overall changes in the children's intelligence and linguistic skills. No noticeable change was seen in the children's executive functioning, which is basically the high-level thought process that aids one in exercising self-control, planning things, multi-tasking, focusing, and prioritizing tasks.

Intriguingly, kids whose mothers had consumed DHA had a marginally lower rating from their parents in the context of executive functioning and behavior.

The researchers again tested the children when they were 7 years old. This time the IQ of the children was determined. The tests were carried out by psychologists and they were clueless about which children had been exposed to the placebo or DHA.

Apart from IQ, the psychologists also examined the children based on academic aptitude and language, as well as executive functions such as mental agility, self-control, and memory. The parents were also quizzed about their child's thinking and behavioral patterns

What Did The Study Reveal?

According to the results, children who were exposed to DHA scored 98.3 in the IQ test. The children who were exposed to placebo scored 97.3. Similar results were also displayed across children in both the groups in the context of academic skills, language, and executive functioning.

According to Gould, women from both the groups may have been exposed to a significant amount of DHA especially in their diet, which meant that the supplement didn't make a difference.

"The important result in this study is that our primary outcome - child intelligence or IQ - was not affected by fish oil," surmised Gould.

Photo: Stephen Cummings | Flickr

ⓒ 2021 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.