April 9/Pediatrics Week -- Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s), namely EPA and DHA found in seafood and fish oil, are known for their potential heart health benefits, but evidence of other benefits continues to accumulate. Enhanced infant brain development, reduced hot flashes in menopausal women and healthier weight loss in obese dieters are newer associations with omega-3 consumption. Research findings on these topics are summarized in the March 2009 "Fats of Life" and PUFA newsletters.
A study in Australia examined the effects on neurodevelopment of giving preterm infants more DHA than is usually found in breast milk or preterm formula. When the infants reached 18 months of age, the researchers found that all infants receiving the DHA-rich breast milk were less likely to develop serious mental delay compared with infants receiving standard breast milk.
"Additional DHA offers a simple, economical way to improve infant nutrition and reduce serious mental developmental delays related to preterm delivery," said PUFA newsletter editor Joyce Nettleton, D.Sc.
An Italian study showed that providing DHA to healthy infants throughout the first year of life helps them reach some developmental milestones earlier, such as sitting without support. Just 20mg of DHA was enough to make a difference.
EPA proved beneficial to women around the time of menopause. Quebec researchers found that their hot flashes decreased by 55% after eight weeks with EPA consumption.
"Once others confirm these findings, women may have a safe, effective way to ease the distress associated with menopause," Nettleton added.
Obese individuals may also benefit from omega-3s. Spanish researchers found that animals fed omega-3s deposited significantly less fat in their fat tissue and livers and had much lower production of inflammatory substances. This suggests that increased consumption of omega-3s by obese humans might discourage fat gain and promote healthier fat tissue and liver metabolism. Another study from Spain, Ireland and Iceland found that higher omega-3 intakes by obese individuals on a weight-loss diet might help control their appetite and satiety, promote weight loss and reduce the likelihood of developing insulin resistance.
From the April 13, 2009, Prepared Foods E-dition