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Mother's Diet May Affect Children's Behavior, Intelligence

Update Date: Sep 13, 2013 11:12 AM EDT

Expectant mothers should watch what they eat. A new study revealed that diet during pregnancy and early life can influence a child's behavior and intelligence.

Researchers conducted a five-year study involving hundreds of European families with young children. The study looked at how consumption of B-vitamins, folic acid, breast milk versus formula milk, iron, iodine and omega-3 fatty acid had on the cognitive, emotional and behavioral development of children from before birth to age nine.

Scientists found that folic acid consumption during pregnancy can reduce the risk of behavioral problems during early childhood. The study also found that mothers who eat lots of oily fish, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and iodine, have children with better reading ability at the age of nine.

"Short term studies seem unable to detect the real influence of nutrition in early life," researcher Cristina Campoy said in a news release. "NUTRIMENTHE was designed to be a long-term study, as the brain takes a long time to mature, and early deficiencies may have far-reaching effects. So, early nutrition is most important."

Other factors that can also affect children's mental performance include the parent's educational level, socioeconomic status of the parents, age of the parents and the genetic background of the mother and child. Researchers said the genetic background influences how nutrients are processed and transferred during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

"It is important to try to have good nutrition during pregnancy and in the early life of the child and to include breastfeeding if possible, as such 'good nutrition' can have a positive effect on mental performance later in childhood," Campoy said.

"However, in the case of genetics, future studies should include research on genetic variation in mothers and children so that the optimum advice can be given. This area is relatively new and will be challenging," she noted. 

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