ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Air Pollution May Raise Blood Pressure
Folic Acid Might Offer Allergy Relief
Overweight Moms More Likely to Have Asthmatic Kids
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Tai Chi: An Ideal Exercise for Many People with Diabetes
Awareness of Alternative Therapies May Be Lacking
Acupuncture Eases Breast Cancer Treatment Side Effects
ANIMAL CARE
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
Separation Anxiety, Canine-Style
Beware of Dog Bites
BONES & JOINTS
Rheumatoid Arthritis Rising Among U.S. Women
A Little Drink May Be Good for Your Bones
High Birth Weight Doubles Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis
CANCER
Many Cancer Patients Turn to Complementary Medicine
Vitamin D May Lower Colon Cancer Risk
Vitamin D Good for Breast Cancer Patients
CAREGIVING
Birthmark or Blood Vessel Problem?
Study Links Pesticides to Birth Defects
Tainted China Formula Caused High Rate of Kidney Stones in Kids
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Obesity Linked to Heart Failure Risk
Support Network May Play Role in Benefits of Drinking
Review Confirms Links Between Diet, Heart Health
COSMETIC
Science May Banish Bad Hair Days
Gum Chewing May Cut Craving for Snacks
Get Sugared!.... Its a sweet choice for hair removal
DENTAL, ORAL
Periodontal Disease Impacts Whole Health
Acid Drinks Blamed for Increase in Tooth Erosion
Toothbrushing May Stave Off Heart Woes
DIABETES
Study Shows Turmeric May Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
Poor Blood Sugar Control After Heart Surgery Impacts Outcomes
Laughter May Lower Heart Attack Risk in Diabetics
DIET, NUTRITION
Functional Foods Uncovered
Antioxidants Abound in Cereals, Popcorn, Whole-Grain Snacks
Fruits, Vegetables, Teas May Cut Smokers' Cancer Risk
DISABILITIES
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Climate Change Linked to Longer Pollen Seasons
Exhaust From Railroad Diesel Linked to Lung Ailments
Improved Fungicides May Be Easier on Environment
EYE CARE, VISION
Drinking Green Tea May Protect Eyes
Nutrient-Rich Diet Lowers Risk of Age-Related Eye Disease
Decorative Halloween Eye Lenses May Pose Serious Risks
FITNESS
Super Bowl Loss Can 'Kill' Some Fans
Early Exercise Boosts Outcomes for ICU Patients
Keep Safety in Mind While Your Kids Are Cooling Off in the Water
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Bowel Prep Harder on Women Than Men
Soothing Imagery May Help Rid Some Kids of Stomach Pain
Peppermint Oil, Fiber Can Fight Irritable Bowel
GENERAL HEALTH
Eat Light - Live Longer
How Weight Loss Can Help the Heart
Mind Exercise Might Help Stroke Patients
HEAD & NECK
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Airport Full Body Scanners Pose No Health Threat: Experts
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
Using Light Therapy to Silence Harmful Brain Activity
HEARING
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Drinking Your Way to Health? Perhaps Not
Omega-6 Fatty Acids Can Be Good for You
Potassium-Rich Foods May Cut Stroke, Heart Disease Risk
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Older Adults May Have Some Immunity to Swine Flu
Poor Restroom Cleaning Causes Cruise-Ship Sickness
Swine Flu Is Now a Pandemic Says W.H.O.
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Exercise Eases Obesity and Anger in Kids
Safety Should Be Priority for Those Involved in Kids' Sports
Most Depressed Teens Don't Get Treatment
MEN'S HEALTH
Countdown to Hair Loss
Low Vitamin D Levels May Boost Men's Heart Attack Risk
Could Chinese Herb Be a Natural Viagra?
MENTAL HEALTH
Music Soothes Anxiety as Well as Massage Does
Vitamin C Protects Some Elderly Men From Bone Loss
Brain Scans Show How Humans 'Hear' Emotion
PAIN
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Mom's Extra Pregnancy Pounds May Raise Child's Heart Risks
Pregnant Women Exposed To Certain Pollutants Could Lower Childs IQ
Pre-Pregnancy Weight Linked to Babies' Heart Problems
SENIORS
As You Age, Better Health Means Better Sex
Vitamin D May Help Keep Aging at Bay
Daily dose of beet juice promotes brain health in older adults
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Daylight Savings: Not a Bright Time for All
Sleeping Could Help Women Lose The Baby Fat
6 to 8 Hours of Shut-Eye Is Optimal for Health
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Health Tip: Be More Comfortable During Childbirth
Natural Relief for Painful Menstrual Cramps
Alternative Treatments May Boost IVF Success
Add your Article

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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