Whilst there are a lot of factors that play a role in children's neurodevelopment, whether that’s genetics and environmental factors there has of course always been plenty of evidence to suggest that nutrition is of course equally important. Recent studies have shown that the gut microbiome has been linked to increased rates of everything from ASD through to ADHD. Although those links could be a little bit overblown.
That said some recent studies that suggest that there is a direct correlation between fish consumption and a reduction in such developmental issues in children. It would be quite easy to wave this away as omega 3 fatty acids being the main reason for this, although there could actually be a little bit more to this, although that definitely would play a part with them being essential for brain development.
The Studies Showing Importance of Fish Consumption for Neurodevelopment
A study conducted by researchers from Penn State College of Medicine examined the association between fish consumption and neurodevelopmental delays in young children. The study involved 142 children from birth to 18 months and assessed their diets at six and twelve months using a standard food questionnaire. The researchers also collected saliva samples from the children at six months to analyze the activity levels of specific bacteria. At 18 months, the children's parents completed a survey to assess their speech, motor, and social skills.
The findings of the study revealed that children who consumed fish at least once a week at the age of one were less likely to experience delays in motor skills, language abilities, social skills, and cognitive development compared to those who didn't eat fish. This suggests that fish consumption in early childhood may have a protective effect on neurodevelopment. A sentiment that was echoed by the studies author, Dr Steven Hicks, M.D., Ph.D. in a recent press release.
And as we stated earlier, omega 3 is essential for children’s brain development, but there could potentially be a bit more to this. And that’s where the gut microbiome comes in. Now, it’s not likely to be the main factor in this case, but, it could still be a factor to consider.
Interestingly a study from 2021 showed there was a link to a mothers fish consumption and reducing the risks of neurodevelopmental issues.
Fish and The Gut Microbiome
One interesting aspect of the study was the examination of the children's microbiomes. The researchers found that increased activity of certain bacteria, such as Candidatus Gracilibacteria in the saliva was associated with an increased risk of neurodevelopmental delays. On the other hand, increased activity of bacteria like Chlorobi was linked to a reduced risk of delays. These findings suggest that microbial diversity may play a role in the metabolism and utilization of essential nutrients such as long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (the omegas) found in fish, which are associated with neurodevelopment.
It’s Not Just Neurological
There is actually also a decent amount of evidence to suggest that introducing fish into a child’s diet can also reduce the risks of developing things like asthma and other conditions as well.
A study conducted by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and St. Olavs Hospital found that children who consumed fish at least once a week until the age of two had significantly reduced occurrences of eczema, wheezing, and asthma by the age of six. The reduction ranged from 28 to 40 percent for the various conditions.
And further to this a meta-analysis of several studies supports the findings of the Norwegian study, suggesting that consuming fish at the age of one year reduces the risk of eczema, asthma, and wheezing at the age of six. This protective effect is more significant than the mother's intake of fish and cod liver oil during pregnancy and breastfeeding or the child's intake at two years.
We’re now at the point where the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) emphasizes that fish consumption can improve infant neurodevelopment and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. Moreover, introducing fish early in a child's diet may even help prevent allergic diseases such as asthma and eczema. With these numerous nutritional benefits, fish should be a welcome part of every child's diet.
Recommendations for Parents
Despite all of these positive reasons to make sure to keep fish in a childs diet there are some considerations:
Choose low-mercury fish: It’s important to opt for fish varieties that are low in mercury, such as salmon, trout and sardines.
Limit high-mercury fish: Avoid or limit the consumption of high-mercury fish, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, although there’s are generally not overly common in most diets.
Consider supplementation: If you can’t get your kids to eat fish then an omega 3 supplement is definitely better than nothing.
Maintain a balanced diet: Fish should be part of a well-rounded and balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.