College of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences
Food Science and Nutrition Department
BS in Nutrition
The unique structure of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and their high concentration levels in the brain suggest PUFA availability plays a vital role in the development of human brains while in utero and in the first few months of life. Exactly how important PUFAs' role is in infant brain development is still unclear. It is known that the pregnant mother's PUFA consumption is the primary supply for the fetus; however pregnant women often decrease their fish intake, the richest PUFA food source, for fear of mercury exposure. Observational studies that looked at varying levels of maternal fish consumption generally found that children of mothers who consumed more fish scored higher on tests evaluating brain development. Experimental studies on the other hand had inconsistent results when looking for an association between maternal fish oil supplementation and infant mental development. This lack of a definitive conclusion suggests a need for further research to explain the reasoning for the differences in these results as well as to bridge the gap between the findings. A more thorough understanding is necessary in order to provide pregnant women with the best information and recommendations on what to eat during pregnancy.