Fatty Acids in Fish Oil Found Crucial to Brain Development

While recent reports question whether fish oil supplements support heart health, University of California Irvine (UCI) scientists have found, in a study carried out in frogs, that the fatty acids fish oils contain are vitally important to the developing brain. In the study, which was published in the April 15, 2015 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, UCI neurobiologists report that dietary deficiencies in the type of fatty acids found in fish and other foods can limit brain growth during fetal development and early in life. The article is titled “Impact of Maternal n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Deficiency on Dendritic Arbor Morphology and Connectivity of Developing Xenopus laevis Central Neurons In Vivo.” The findings suggest that women maintain a balanced diet rich in these fatty acids for themselves during pregnancy and for their babies after birth. Dr. Susana Cohen-Cory, Professor of Neurobiology & Behavior at UCI, and colleagues identified, for the first time, how deficits in what are known as n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids cause molecular changes in the developing brain that result in constrained growth of neurons and the synapses that connect them. These n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are precursors of docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA (image), which plays a key role in the healthy creation of the central nervous system. In their study, which used female frogs and tadpoles, the UCI researchers were able to see how DHA-deficient brain tissue fostered poorly developed neurons and limited numbers of synapses, the vital conduits that allow neurons to communicate with each other.
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