The amount of fatty acids transferred from mother to fetus depends not only on maternal metabolism but also on placental function, i.e. by the uptake, metabolism and then transfer of fatty acids to the fetus. The third trimester of gestation is characterized by an increase of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in the fetal circulation, in particular DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), especially to support brain growth and visual development.
These mechanisms may be altered in pathological conditions, such as intrauterine growth restriction and diabetes, when maternal and fetal plasma levels of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids undergo significant changes. The aim of this review is to describe the maternal and placental factors involved in determining fetal fatty acid availability and metabolism, focusing on the specific role of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in normal and pathological pregnancies.
A diet containing fish or walnut oil during pregnancy may make your baby smarter
Until now, several clinical trials have shown that fish and walnut oil supplementation in pregnant women reduces the risk of allergy in their children, but the mechanism was unknown. In the Sacramento and Davis regional areas, the University of California Davis, studies how a mother's diet may influence her baby's allergies. Our dietary intake of fish and nut oils is being replaced by corn oils which contain a different kind of fatty acid. That's the problem in nutrition today.
Strategies to prevent food allergies in children
See the UC Davis Nutrition Briefs PDF file article, "Strategies to Prevent Food Allergies in Infants and Children." That article asked whether breastfeeding might prevent certain food allergies in babies and also questioned the mixed results of studies where the pregnant mother avoided certain foods before the baby's birth to see whether the baby would be allergic to those foods after the baby was born.
Now, results of a new study by other researchers focuses on a possible link between what a mother eats during pregnancy and the risk of her baby developing various allergies. Check out the Sept 8, 2011 news release from Wiley-Blackwell, "Mother's diet influences baby's allergies -- new research."
What's the link between what a mother eats during pregnancy and the risk of her child developing allergies?
A possible link between what a mother eats during pregnancy and the risk of her child developing allergies has been identified in new research published in this month's The Journal of Physiology.
Also see other studies, such as the following articles or abstracts of studies: Maternal nutritional history predicts obesity in adult offspring independent of postnatal diet, Effects of a dietary and environmental prevention program on the incidence of allergic symptoms in high atopic risk infants: three years follow-up, Effects of a dietary and environmental prevention programme on the incidence of allergic symptoms in high atopic risk infants: three years follow-up, Multiple food allergy: a possible diagnosis in breastfed infants, Long chain fatty acids and dietary fats in fetal nutrition,and Cows's milk allergy: newborns.
According to the latest study noted in the news release, "Mother's diet influences baby's allergies -- new research," The research found that if a mother's diet contains a certain group of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) – such as those found in fish, walnut oil or flaxseed – the baby's gut develops differently. The PUFAs are thought to improve how gut immune cells respond to bacteria and foreign substances, making the baby less likely to suffer from allergies.
Until now, several clinical trials have shown that fish and walnut oil supplementation in pregnant women reduces the risk of allergy in their children, but the mechanism was unknown. "There is intense research interest in maternal diet during pregnancy.
Nut or fish oil has been replaced by corn oil in many urban and modern societies
"In the western diet, the group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that we have shown to help gut function are actually disappearing – our dietary intake of fish and nut oils is being replaced by corn oils which contain a different kind of fatty acid". Said Dr Gaëlle Boudry, of the INRA research institute in Rennes, France, according to the news release.
"Our study identifies that a certain group of polyunsaturated fatty acids – known as n-3PUFAs – causes a change in how a baby's gut develops, which in turn might change how the gut immune system develops. These changes are likely to reduce the risk of developing allergies in later life."
The team found that supplementing a mother's diet with n-3PUFA caused the new-born's gut to become more permeable. A more permeable gut enables bacteria and new substances to pass through the lining of the gut into the bloodstream more easily. These new substances then trigger the baby's immune response and the production of antibodies.
Diet links to how fast a baby's immune system matures
"The end result is that the baby's immune system may develop and mature faster – leading to better immune function and less likelihood of suffering allergies," added Dr Boudry in the news release.
This research adds to previous studies which have shown that an intake of n-3 PUFAs during pregnancy increases gestational length and maturation of the central nervous system of a baby and that their performance on mental tasks also seemed to be improved in childhood.
"Other studies have found that a diet containing fish or walnut oil during pregnancy may make your baby smarter – our research adds to this, suggesting such supplements also accelerate the development of a healthy immune system to ward off food allergies."
In terms of next steps, the team's findings were based on piglets so research will continue to see if they translate to humans. The porcine intestine is an excellent model of the human gut however, so they are hopeful that the findings can be extrapolated. The team also plans to investigate whether the apparent gut function-boosting effects of n-3PUFA that they have identified in newborns extends into later life.
Are too many pregnant women avoiding long-chain fatty acids?
You have numerous pregnant women substituting only medium chain fatty acids (coconut oil/coconut milk) or using only monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil) during pregnancy to control their own cholesterol, but long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids are essential nutrients for a healthy diet.
The different kinds consumed by the mother during gestation and lactation may influence pregnancy, fetal and also neonatal outcome, according to the abstract of the study, "Long chain fatty acids and dietary fats in fetal nutrition." There's a difference between long-chain saturated fats and long-chain polyunsaturated fats. Also see the article, "Long-chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Chronic Childhood Disorders."
Long-chain fats from fish oils
One example of long-chain polyunstaturated fats is the DHA from purified fish oils that don't contain PCBs. According to the article, "Long-chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Chronic Childhood Disorders," Recent research indicates that providing supplements of specific fatty acids, namely docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA), to infants, pregnant women and individuals with certain metabolic disorders may offer preventive and therapeutic benefits, especially in relation to brain development.
In addition, supplementing both fatty acids together in prescribed amounts may augment their effects on neurotransmission and membrane maturation. Recently, a small group of experts has concluded that “infant formulas for term infants should contain at least 0.2% of total fatty acids as DHA and 0.35% as AA, while formulas for preterm infants should include at least 0.35% DHA and 0.4% AA.”
All recent reviews and recommendations have underlined the lack of adverse effects from these supplementations. In addition, providing supplements of DHA to pregnant women was recently shown to be associated with improved early developmental outcome of the offspring. The idea is to tailor your foods to the metabolic and genetic expression of your family.