When it comes to pregnancy, there are a few grey areas where seafood is concerned. For example, some types of fish contain more mercury than others, which could pose certain risks during pregnancy.
The list of fish to avoid includes swordfish, shark and marlin. There are, however, other kinds of seafood that are considered safe to consume during pregnancy, and now scientists have found that eating a seafood-rich diet during early pregnancy is associated with better attention outcomes in children.
The study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, looked at 1 641 mother-child pairs from the INMA Environment and Childhood Project, a Spanish study where the role of pollutants during pregnancy and their effects on children was researched.
During their pregnancies, mothers were required to complete a number of food-frequency questionnaires which assessed how often they ate more than 100 various food items, which included various types of seafood. Data on the children's dietary habits were collected using the same questionnaires at the ages of one, five and eight years old.
Adding to earlier research
When the children turned eight, they were required to complete an Attention Network Task (ANT), a computer-based neuropsychological test which is designed to assess attention function. The outcomes of the ANT, which were the number of omission errors made in relation to target stimuli and the speed of responses to stimuli were assessed by the researchers.
The study adds to earlier research which analysed children at the age of five. Jordi Júlvez, researcher in the Childhood & Environment programme at ISGlobal and lead author of the study said, "The consumption of seafood during the first trimester of pregnancy had a greater effect on children's attention capacity than the consumption of seafood later in pregnancy or at five years of age, by which time some neurodevelopment process have already been completed."
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), play a fundamental role in in complex biological processes and are involved in neurological development. Due to the fact that these nutrients participate in the definition of foetal brain structure and function, they have a large impact on later neuropsychological development.
Attention is a complex behaviour which children need to learn, because it precedes crucial functions, like memory. "We focused on the attention function because attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is common in school-age children," said Jordi Sunyer, head of the Childhood & Environment programme at ISGlobal.
Need for more research
The study also looked at the differences between various types of fish and seafood, namely fatty fish, lean fish, canned tuna and shellfish. Children whose mothers ate a diet rich in different types of seafood scored very well on attention tests, and so did children of women with a diet only rich in fatty fish. It was found that scores were lower in children whose mothers relied on canned tuna or shellfish for their seafood intake.
Although the study seemed to deliver positive results, authors of previous research have found that there is also a link between consuming fish during pregnancy and childhood obesity and increased blood pressure.
Experts insist on the need for more research on the topic in order to determine which species of fish and what quantities could be beneficial for foetal development.
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