ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Combating Myths About Seasonal Allergies
'Safe' Ozone Levels May Not Be for Some
Obesity May Raise Kids' Allergy Risk
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Birds Don't Miss a Beat
Relaxation Tapes or Mozart Lower Blood Pressure
Garlic Yields Up Its Health Secret
ANIMAL CARE
Safe Toys for Dogs
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
Animals Respond to Acupuncture's Healing Touch
BONES & JOINTS
Soccer's a Winner for Building Bone Health in Girls
Arthritis Hits More Than Half of Diabetics
Pain More a Cause of Arthritis Than a Symptom
CANCER
Seaweed May Help Treat Lymphoma
Wristbands May Lessen Nausea After Radiation
Selenium, Omega-3s May Stave Off Colorectal Cancer
CAREGIVING
Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome
3 Steps Might Help Stop MRSA's Spread
Bariatric Surgery Centers Don't Deliver Better Outcomes
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Vitamins Do Older Women Little Good
Varicose Veins May Mask Larger Problem
Years of Exposure to Traffic Pollution Raises Blood Pressure
COSMETIC
Get Sugared!.... Its a sweet choice for hair removal
New Genetic Links to Baldness Discovered
Science May Banish Bad Hair Days
DENTAL, ORAL
Gummy Bears Join Cavity Fight
Hormones May Be to Blame for Women's Cavity Rates
Toothbrushing May Stave Off Heart Woes
DIABETES
Boosting Vitamin D Can Do a Heart Good
Diabetes Linked to Cognitive Problems
Vitamin K Slows Insulin Resistance in Older Men
DIET, NUTRITION
Mediterranean Diet Helps Protect Aging Brain
Coffee Beans May Be Newest Stress-Buster
Iced Teas Pose High Risk of Kidney Stones
DISABILITIES
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
FDA Faulted for Stance on Chemical in Plastics
Chemicals in Carpets, Non-Stick Pans Tied to Thyroid Disease
Short-Term Air Pollution Exposure May Damage DNA
EYE CARE, VISION
Brain Pressure More Likely to Cause Vision Loss in Men
Gene-Transfer Proves Safe for Vision Problem
Ordinary Chores Cause Half of All Eye Injuries
FITNESS
Many Cancer Survivors Don't Adopt Healthy Lifestyle
Have Fun This Summer, But DO Be Careful
Run for Your Life
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
Olive Oil May Protect Against Bowel Disease
Peppermint Oil, Fiber Can Fight Irritable Bowel
GENERAL HEALTH
Vitamin D Best Taken With Largest Meal of Day, Study Finds
Regular Yoga May Improve Eating Habits
Bacterial Infections May Succumb to Honey
HEAD & NECK
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
The Internet Is Becoming One-Stop Shopping for Health Help
E-Mailing Your Way to Healthier Habits
HEARING
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Kids With Vitamin D Deficiency Linked to Heart Trouble
Omega-6 Fatty Acids Can Be Good for You
Fish Oil Supplements Help With Heart Failure
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Poor Restroom Cleaning Causes Cruise-Ship Sickness
Hand Washing 10 Times a Day May Help Keep Flu Away
Dry Weather Boosts Odds of Flu Outbreaks
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Scorpion Anti-Venom Speeds Children's Recovery
Protect Your Kids From Swine Flu While at Camp
Most Depressed Teens Don't Get Treatment
MEN'S HEALTH
Low Iron Levels Cut Cancer Risk in Men With PAD
More Vitamin C May Mean Less Chance of Gout
Low Vitamin D Levels May Boost Men's Heart Attack Risk
MENTAL HEALTH
Chocolate a Sweet Pick-Me-Up for the Depressed
Love Hormone May Ease Discussion of Painful Topics
Meaningful Conversations Boost Kids' Language Skills
PAIN
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
Are We Exercising Pain Away? Not So Much.
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Woman in America Are Delaying Motherhood, Study Says
Breast-Feeding Benefits Moms and Babies
Heart Defects in Newborns Linked to Antidepressants
SENIORS
A Little Alcohol May Stave Off Alzheimer's
Seniors Cope With Sleep Loss Better Than Young Adults
Older People at Greater Risk of Swine Flu Death
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Daylight Savings: Not a Bright Time for All
Lose Weight, Sleep Apnea May Improve
Better Sleep, Grades Seem to Go Up
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Steady Weight Gain Boosts Late-Life Breast Cancer Risk
Women Who Run May Benefit From Extra Folic Acid
Bitter Melon Extract May Slow, Stop Breast Cancer
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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