We may all be created equal, but some of us are better at math than others. And if you want a smarter child who grows up to be a math and academic whiz, researchers in California and Pennsylvania have pinpointed an easy way to put the odds in your favor.
To endow your child with more brain power, eat fish and breastfeed.
A study at the University of California Santa Barbara and the University of Pittsburgh that analyzed the fatty acids in mothers from more than 24 countries shows that kids breastfeeding from mothers with more omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in their milk get, on average, better test scores in school than other childen.
DHA is found primarily in certain fish, nuts and seeds. If a breastfeeding mother eats these foods, more DHA enters her chest milk.
According to the researchers, the DHA in chest milk is the most powerful predictor of an area’s test scores and academic performance. It plays a stronger role than national income and the amount of money spent per pupil in schools for enabling kids to do better academically.
All by themselves, DHA levels were found to account for approximately 20 percent of the difference in test scores among various countries.
In contrast, the level of omega-6 fats in mother’s milk (fats derived from vegetable oils like soy and corn) was discovered to be linked to lower test scores.
And when the scientists analyzed both the amounts of DHA and the levels of omega-6 fats in chest milk, they said the cumulative positive effects of DHA and the negative effects of omega-6 accounted for up to 50 percent of the differences in test scores among various regions.
In those areas where breastfeeding mother’s diets included large quantities of omega-6, the benefits of DHA shrank.
“Human intelligence has a physical basis in the huge size of our brains — some seven times larger than would be expected for a mammal with our body size,” says researcher Steven Gaulin. “Since there is never a free lunch, those big brains need lots of extra building materials — most importantly, they need omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA. Omega-6 fats, however, undermine the effects of DHA and seem to be bad for brains.”