Posted by Pragati Khond on January 16, 2009

Sydney, Australia, January 16: Omega-3-rich fish oil supplements can enlace breast milk, reducing the risk of developmental problems in prematurely-born babies to almost half, notes an Australian study.

The study focused on numerous infants, less than 1250 grams in weight, at five hospitals across the Australian continent and found that nursing mothers, who regularly took omega-3 supplements had reduced their child's risk of mild mental delay by almost 45 percent.

Female babies were found to be at higher advantage of the supplement with rate of mild mental delay reduced by 55 percent and significant delay was seen reducing by almost 83 percent.

But male babies displayed little slower advancement. Experts, however, could not explain this difference of benefits seen in both the genders.

Andrew McPhee, neonatologist at Women's and Children's Hospital in Adelaide, said, "The thing that excites us is the lowered incidence of significant and even mild developmental deficiencies. On a population basis, there aren't too many things that have done anything like that. This is a simple nutritional strategy that increases something that babies may not be getting enough of."

McPhee, who co-authored this study, stated that further studies shall be organized soon to investigate, if higher amounts of fish oil can benefit male babies and reduce further risk of developmental problems in both sexes.

Omega-3 fatty acid, also known as docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is essential for healthy brain and nervous system development. Babies born more than seven weeks' before the due time are at high risk of developmental disorders and learning disabilities, as well as physical health problems.

However, researchers believe that their findings do not apply to full-term babies whose mothers might be taking omega-3 supplements, explaining that the study focused on pre-term babies born more than seven weeks premature.

Experts say that such infants are at greater risk of mental delays, learning disorders and health problems due to weaker immune systemdefine. Docosahexaenoic acid( DHA), commonly known as omega-3 fatty acid, is said to play a vital role in development of nervous system and brain.

The study involved 614 infants roughly grouped into two. Mothers of first group were given fish oil supplements daily and mothers of another group were given soya oil. The supplements were given till their delivery dates and findings were recorded 18 months later.

Findings of the study, which was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, showed female babies recorded better development rate but no significant improvement was recorded, on the whole, in the DHA group.

Kei Lui, director of neonatal intensive care at Sydney's Royal Hospital for Women, said, "The reduction in developmental delays is very important. A lot of educational resources go into helping these children, so if you have fewer of those babies it makes a quite substantial difference."

The study is published in the Journal of the 'American Medical Association'.

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