Eating fish during pregnancy improves children’s attention span

Following a diet rich in white and blue fish during the first months of pregnancy improves the attention capacity of boys and girls, according to a study by the Barcelona Institute of Global Health (ISGlobal) to which Efe has had access. Scientists at ISGlobal, a center promoted by La Caixa, have studied the relationship between the consumption of different types of fish during pregnancy and the attention span of boys and girls at eight years of age.

The results, published by the International Journal of Epidemiology, show that a diet rich in fish during the earliest stages of pregnancy has beneficial effects on the attention capacity of boys and girls . The research has been carried out on 1,641 pairs of mothers and children belonging to the INMA (Childhood and Environment) Project, a Spanish research network aimed at studying the role of pollutants during pregnancy and their effects on childhood.

Throughout the pregnancy, the mothers completed numerous questionnaires that considered various consumption frequencies for more than one hundred foods, among which were the different fish. The data on the feeding of boys and girls were also collected using the same questionnaire at the ages of one, five, and eight years, and at this latter age, the children also did a neuropsychological test to assess their attention function.

The experts focused on two responses, the so-called omissions, that is, the number of errors that the examinee overlooked in relation to the key stimulus, and the speed of response to those stimuli that were detected, which are common indicators of selective and sustained attention.

The conclusion of the study is that «with the consumption of fish during the first trimester of pregnancy a greater effect on the attention capacity of children is observed than with intake during late pregnancy or intake by children at five years, when some of the neurodevelopmental processes have already ended, “said ISGlobal researcher Jordi Júlvez, first author of the article.

According to Júlvez, brain formation takes place mainly during pregnancy, through complex biological processes such as the generation of neurons, the creation of synapses and neuronal myelination. “Essential nutrients like polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are critical to these processes. Docosahexaenoic acids (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acids (EPA) are the main omega-3 PUFAs involved in neurological development and the main source of both is fish, “explained Júlvez.

These essential nutrients, added the researcher, participate in defining the structure and function of the fetus’ brain, “thus having a great impact on subsequent neuropsychological development.” “ Attention is a complex behavior that every child needs to learn , since it precedes the performance of other essential functions, such as memory. We focus on the attention function because attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) are common pathologies during school age ”, justified Jordi Sunyer, director of the Childhood and Environment program at ISGlobal.

The study also considers the differences between the different types of fish and shellfish: blue fish, white fish, canned tuna and crustaceans and molluscs. Both the sons and daughters of those women with a diet rich in various fish and those of women with diets rich only in blue fish or only in white fish showed very positive results in attention tests.

However, when the contribution of fish to the mothers’ diet was based on canned tuna or shellfish, the results were lower. Despite the promising results of this study, there is previous research linking fish consumption during pregnancy with childhood obesity , as well as increased blood pressure. For this reason, experts insist on the need for more research on this topic to determine exactly which fish species and in what quantities are beneficial for fetal development.


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