Fats and the Fetal Brain - dummies

By Carol Ann Rinzler

The human brain is about 60 percent fat, and most of that is DHA. This fatty acid is vital for the proper functioning of the adult brain but even more important for the development of the fetal brain and spinal cord. (Consuming foods with DHA also helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.)

More than 20 years after the seven fat-deprived babies showed up at North Shore, an entire catalog of well-designed studies has documented the advantages conferred on infants whose mothers get plenty of DHA — the best source is fish oils, fish, and seafood while pregnant — along with all the normal vitamins, minerals, and other essential components of a healthful diet, of course.

Right from the start, babies delivered by women with higher blood levels of DHA are more attentive to new stimuli. For the next six months, they score higher on tests of cognition (thinking processes) than babies born to women with lower levels of DHA. According to one report from Harvard Medical School, by the time the DHA-enriched babies are 3 years old, they may also score several points higher on vocabulary tests.

But DHA’s brain benefit doesn’t end with babies.

In 2002, the National Academy of Science’s Food and Nutrition Board set recommendations for daily consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, as shown in the following table. The Adequate Intake (AI) is a recommendation for nutrients for which there is no Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).

Daily Adequate Intake (AI) for Omega-3s
Age Adequate Intake (AI)
Infants 0–12 months 0.6 g/600 mg
Children 1–3 years 4–8 years 9–13 years 14–18 years 0.7 g/700 mg 0.9 g/900 mg 1.2 g/1,200 mg 1.6 g/1,600 mg (boys) 1.1 g/1,100 mg (girls)
Pregnant women 1.4 g/1,400 mg
Breast feeding women 1.3 g/1,300mg
Adults 19+ 1.6 g/1,600 mg (men) 1.1 g/1,100 mg (women)

Source: Food and Nutrition Board, National Academy of Sciences, “Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids,” September 5, 2002