Food and Behaviour Research

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Maternal milk DHA content predicts cognitive performance in a sample of 28 nations

Lassek WD, Gaulin SJ. (2013) Matern Child Nutr. 2013   Jun 25. doi: 10.1111/mcn.12060. [Epub ahead of print] 

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Convergent evidence from neuronal biology and hominin brain hypertrophy suggests that omega-3 fatty acids are a limiting resource for neural and cognitive development in Homo sapiens, and therefore that children from populations with higher omega-3 availability should display superior cognitive performance.

Using multiple regression, we tested this prediction in a sample of 28 countries, with Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) math scores in 2009 as an index of cognitive performance, and country-specific breast milk levels of omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) as an index of omega-3 availability.

Breast milk DHA makes a highly significant contribution to math scores (β = 0.462, P = 0.006), greater in magnitude than the control variables of per capita Gross Domestic Product (PCGDP) and educational expenditures per pupil.

Together, dietary fish (positively) and total fat (negatively) explain 61% of the variance in maternal milk DHA in a larger sample of 39 countries.