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  • Recipe for averting disaster

    Omega-3 is very good for fetuses, especially those whose mothers have HIV


    YOU are what you eat, or so the proverb goes. If you happen to be a baby, though, you tend also to be what your mother ate when she was pregnant. Moreover, a breastfed baby is what his or her mother continues to eat.

    For many years it has been known that maternal nutrition affects the development of the child. Eating folic acid, present in leafy green vegetables, ensures that the fetus has the nutrients it needs to grow the casing to the neural tubes that link the brain to the rest of the body. As a result, many pregnant women in the West take supplements that contain the nutrient.

    In recent years the role of fatty acids such as omega-3, present in oily fish including salmon and sardines, has been identified as important in producing children who are bright, dextrous and sociable. Such is the effect that it overwhelms the disadvantage of ingesting the heavy metals that tend to accumulate in oily fish. Smart mothers-to-be in the rich world take plenty of these fatty acids.

    Recent research presented this week at a meeting in London of the Letten Foundation shows just how important maternal nutrition can be. Indeed, a study from Tanzania and Zimbabwe shows that if a mother-to-be eats well, she may even be able to overcome the disadvantages her child will face if she carries the human immunodeficiency virus, , that causes (except, of course, infection with the virus itself).

    Tom Brenna of Cornell University in America has conducted research on how fatty acids, in particular, plant and animal forms of omega-3, are essential to the development of the brains of infants. He particularly stresses the importance of the animal form, called docosahexaenoic acid (), present in oily fish and the eggs of hens fed seeds high in plant omega-3.

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