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Matern Child Nutr. 2015 Oct;11(4):773-9. doi: 10.1111/mcn.12060. Epub 2013 Jun 25.

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

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Department of Epidemiology, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.
Department of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara, California, USA.


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.


brain function; child nutrition; childhood diet; docosahexaenoic acid; education; human milk

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