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For smarter babies, pregnant women should eat more of this
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A large-scale study in Spain suggests pregnant women can improve their babies' brains by adding more of this to their diet. - photo by Jennifer Graham
Years before their children enter kindergarten, mothers can do something that will help their kids perform better in school: Eat fish.

A new study suggests that pregnant women who eat fish three times a week give their babies brains a boost, and the effects last for at least five years.

Researchers in Barcelona, Spain, studied nearly 2,000 mothers and their children from the first trimester until the children turned 5, Reuters News Service reported. They found that the children of women who consumed the most fish performed best on cognitive tests and showed fewer signs of autism.

Moreover, there was no evidence that pollutants, such as mercury, offset the benefits, lead author Jordi Julvez of the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology told Shereen Lehman of Reuters.

The women in the study consumed all types of fish, including swordfish, albacore tuna, mackerel, salmon, hake and sole, as well as shellfish. During pregnancy and after delivery, their blood was tested for exposure to mercury and other pollutants.

The neuropsychological development of their children was tested at ages 14 months and 5 years.

Most of the women consumed about three servings of seafood a week about 500 grams during pregnancy. For each additional 10 grams of fish the mother consumed, the childrens test scores improved, up to about 600 grams, or 21 ounces, after which no further improvement was detected.

The effects were most noticeable in children at age 5.

The conclusions were similar to those found by researchers studying mice in Japan. At Tohoku University School of Japan, doctors found that mice deprived of fatty acids found in fish gave birth to babies with underdeveloped brains and were more prone to psychological disorders such as extreme anxiety in adulthood.

Dietary guidelines in the U.S. recommend pregnant women eat less than what the Spanish women in the study consumed. They suggest 8 to 12 ounces, or 340 grams, per week, because of risks associated with mercury, which can negatively affect a developing babys brain.

Although results of the Spanish study showed no negative outcomes associated with pollutants, experts cautioned that pregnant women should still be careful about the type and origin of the fish they consume.

We still recommend that women avoid the fish that are highest in mercury like catfish, shark, swordfish and giant mackerel, typically the larger fish that have longer lifespans and they tend to concentrate more mercury in their tissue, Dr. Ashley Roman, director of maternal fetal medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, told Lehman of Reuters.
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