A study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, a centre supported “la Caixa”, suggests that the mother’s diet may have an effect on the child’s risk of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The study was published in the Journal of PediatricsTo determine the levels of omega-6, and omega-3 reaching the fetus, we analysed umbilical cord plasma samples. According to statistical analysis, a higher ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 was associated with ADHD symptoms in children aged 7 years.
Long-chain polyunsaturated long-chain fatty acids, omega-6 and omega-3, play an important role in the function of the central nervous systems. They are especially important during the latter stages of pregnancy. These fatty acids compete to be incorporated into cell membranes. They are primarily obtained from diet. It is important to have a balanced intake of both omega-6 and omega-3, as they have opposing physiological functions. The former promotes systemic inflammation while the latter promotes antiinflammatory states. Previous research has shown that ADHD symptoms are associated with a higher ratio between omega-6 and omega-3.
The authors analyzed data from 600 children in four Spanish regions (Asturias Basque Country Catalonia, Catalonia, Valencia) who were participating in the INMA Project. They analysed umbilical plasma samples and data from questionnaires that were completed by mothers. ADHD symptoms were evaluated using two standard questionnaires. The first was completed by the children’s teachers at the age of four years and the second by their mothers at the age of seven years.
The results showed that ADHD symptoms increased at seven years of age by 13% for each unit increase in the ratio of omega-6 toomega-3 in umbilical chord plasma. The study examined the number of ADHD symptoms in children who met the criteria for diagnosis (minimum six symptoms), as well as those with fewer symptoms. The ratio of these two fatty acids was related to ADHD symptoms but not with diagnosis. It was only found in the seven-year-old assessment. The authors suggest that ADHD symptoms that are reported early in life may be due to a neurodevelopmental delay.
“Our findings are in line with previous studies that established a relationship between the omega-6:omega-3 ratio in mothers and various early neurodevelopmental outcomes,” commented Mónica López-Vicente, ISGlobal researcher and lead author of the study.
“Although the association was not clinically significant, our findings are important at the level of the population as a whole,” noted López-Vicente. “If a large percentage of the population is exposed high omega-6 toomega-3 ratios, the distribution of ADHD symptoms would likely move to right and the prevalence and severity of extreme values would increase. This would have a negative impact on productivity and health costs.
“This study adds more evidence to the growing body of research on the importance of maternal diet during pregnancy,” commented ISGlobal researcher Jordi Júlvez, a co-author of the study. “Nutrient supply at the earliest stages in life is vital because it programs the structure of the organs and their function. This programming in turn has an impact upon health at all stages of life. Because the brain takes so long to develop, it is especially vulnerable to misprogramming. These kinds of changes could lead to neurodevelopmental disorders.
Materials provided by Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal).. Note: Content can be edited for style or length.