ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Air Quality Better in Northeast, Midwest
Herbal Remedy Could Halt Peanut Allergy
Asthmatics Who Quit Smoking May Reverse Lung Damage
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Ginkgo No Shield Against Alzheimer's
Health Tip: Anticipating Acupuncture
Acupuncture May Help Restore Lost Sense of Smell
ANIMAL CARE
Beware of Dog Bites
Animals Respond to Acupuncture's Healing Touch
Separation Anxiety, Canine-Style
BONES & JOINTS
Frankincense Provides Relief for Osteoarthritis
Tequila Plant May Help Fight Bone Loss
Body Fat, Muscle Distribution Linked to RA Disability
CANCER
Strenuous Daily Workout May Keep Cancer at Bay
Supplement Hampers Thyroid Cancer Treatment
Quitting Smoking Doubles Survival in Early Stage Lung Cancer
CAREGIVING
When the Caregiver Becomes the Patient
Medication Errors Could Be Cut: Experts
Caregivers Face Multiple Strains Tending Older Parents
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Vitamins Do Older Women Little Good
Years of Exposure to Traffic Pollution Raises Blood Pressure
Night Shift Work Hard on the Heart
COSMETIC
New Genetic Links to Baldness Discovered
Get Sugared!.... Its a sweet choice for hair removal
Contact Lenses Boost Kids' Self-Image
DENTAL, ORAL
Sports Drinks May Be Tough on Teeth
A Sweet Way to Shield Baby's Teeth
Gummy Bears Join Cavity Fight
DIABETES
Treatment for Type 2 Diabetes Updated
Older Diabetics With Depression Face Higher Death Rate
Lifestyle Factors Tied to Older Adults' Diabetes Risk
DIET, NUTRITION
Eating Less May Slow Aging Process
Pesticides and How to Affordably Eat Organic or Reduce Pesticide Consumption
Coffee Drinking Lowers Women's Stroke Risk
DISABILITIES
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Pesticides on Produce Tied to ADHD in Children
Hypertension May Hit Black Males Earlier
Former Inmates at Increased Risk for High Blood Pressure
EYE CARE, VISION
Americans Losing Sight of Eye Health
FDA Goes After Unapproved Eye Washes, Skin Ointments
High Temps Degrade Contact Lens Solution: Study
FITNESS
Walk Long, Slow and Often to Help the Heart
Weak Muscles May Cause 'Runner's Knee'
Exercise As Well As Acupuncture, May Ease Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Soothing Imagery May Help Rid Some Kids of Stomach Pain
Peppermint Oil, Fiber Can Fight Irritable Bowel
Olive Oil May Protect Against Bowel Disease
GENERAL HEALTH
Swine Flu Is Now a Pandemic Says W.H.O.
Soluble Fiber, But Not Bran, Soothes Irritable Bowel
More Single Women Are Having Babies
HEAD & NECK
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
Study Suggests Link Between Cell Phones and Brain Tumors
Imaging Sheds Light on How Acupuncture Works
HEARING
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Estrogen May Help Men's Hearts
Boosting Vitamin D Can Do a Heart Good
Omega-6 Fatty Acids Can Be Good for You
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Chinese 'Devil Dung' Plant Could Be a Swine Flu Fighter
Grapefruit Compound Inhibits Hepatitis C Virus
Hand Washing 10 Times a Day May Help Keep Flu Away
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Plastics Chemical Tied to Aggression in Young Girls
Heart Defects in Newborns Linked to Antidepressants
Exercise During Pregnancy Keeps Newborn Size Normal
MEN'S HEALTH
Low Vitamin D Levels May Boost Men's Heart Attack Risk
Sunlight May Help Protect Men From Kidney Cancer
Countdown to Hair Loss
MENTAL HEALTH
Shop 'Til You Drop: You May Feel Better
A Simple 'Thank You' Brings Rewards to All
Chocolate a Sweet Pick-Me-Up for the Depressed
PAIN
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
For Baby and Mom Alike, Breast-Feeding May Be Best
Breast-Feeding May Protect a Woman's Heart
Sugary Colas Tied to Gestational Diabetes
SENIORS
Living Alone Increases Odds of Developing Dementia
Rapid Weight Loss in Seniors Signals Higher Dementia Risk
Nighttime Urination Linked to Higher Death Rate Among Elderly
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Lose Weight, Sleep Apnea May Improve
6 to 8 Hours of Shut-Eye Is Optimal for Health
Moderate Aerobics May Ease Insomnia Symptoms
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Prenatal Stress May Boost Baby's Asthma Risk
Sleeping Could Help Women Lose The Baby Fat
Flame-Retardant Chemical Linked to Conception Problems
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Omega-3 Fatty Acid May Help 'Preemie' Girls' Brains

TUESDAY, Jan. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they boosted the brain function of female preterm babies by increasing the amount of an omega-3 fatty acid in either formula or breast milk.

The study, which appears in the Jan. 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that preterm baby girls fed a diet high in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) improved their scores on a mental development test by five points. The intervention also led to an 80 percent reduction in the number of baby girls with significant mental delays, the researchers said.

But the intervention didn't confer the same benefits to baby boys, the team noted.

"We hypothesized that if the diets of preterm infants contained a concentration of DHA that was at a level the baby would have received if still in the womb, then we would improve the mental development of these preterm children," said the study's lead author, Maria Makrides, deputy director of the Women's and Children's Health Research Institute and professor of human nutrition at the University of Adelaide, Australia.

Makrides said the idea for the study came from previous research that found that giving low levels of DHA to preemies could improve their visual acuity. That study, however, was unclear whether there were mental benefits as well. Makrides and her colleagues hoped that by increasing the levels of DHA, they would see an improvement in neurocognitive functioning.

The study included 657 infants who were randomly assigned to receive a standard dose of DHA or a high dose. If mothers were breast-feeding, they were given capsules containing the omega-3 fatty acid. Otherwise, they were given fortified formula. Both treatments were given until the babies reached what would have been their expected delivery date.

To test the babies' brain function, the researchers used a test called the Bayley Mental Development Index, which assesses memory, problem solving, early number concepts and language.

When the researchers first tallied the data, they found virtually no difference. But, when they separated the groups by gender, a difference emerged. The baby girls' scores on the test went up by an average of five points. According to Makrides, that translates to a 55 percent reduction in the number of girls with a mild mental delay and, for those given high levels of DHA, an 80 percent reduction.

Why the treatment didn't help boys isn't clear.

"We can only speculate that there are differences in the metabolism of boys and girls that we do not yet understand," Makrides said. "The higher metabolic rate in boys may mean that they utilize much of the DHA they receive into energy. Also, boys may have a higher requirement for DHA. Clearly, this is an area of important research for the future."

Samantha Heller, a New York City-based registered dietician, said she also could not explain why there was such a difference between boys and girls in this study.

"What I can tell you is that DHA is really important for the development of the brain in the womb, and the eyes and visual acuity," Heller said. "There have been studies that show mid-pregnancy supplementation can improve children's outcomes."

"So, what pregnant women can do is focus on their diets, before getting pregnant and during pregnancy, and include foods that have omega-3 fatty acids, like low-mercury fish," she said. "Some examples are anchovies, herring, catfish, canned salmon, sardines, Pacific sole, tilapia, freshwater trout and whitefish."

And she had one more bit of advice: "If you're going to take supplements, talk to your ob/gyn first."

-Serena Gordon

More information

To learn more about premature birth, visit the March of Dimes.



SOURCES: Maria Makrides, B.Sc., B.N.D., Ph.D., deputy director, Women's and Children's Health Research Institute, and professor of human nutrition, University of Adelaide, Australia; Samantha Heller, M.S., R.D., New York City; Jan. 14, 2009, Journal of the American Medical Association

Last Updated: Jan. 13, 2009

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