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The Importance of Your Hips and Thighs (Part #1)

This post is mainly directed at the ladies, specifically the pregnant and/or the soon-to-be pregnant. However, fathers-to-be are pretty critical and will more than likely play a role in child development (I am being sarcastic here, they will play a HUGE role), so hopefully there are some nuggets in here they can pass onto their respective beloveds.

It seems that we women begin preparation for pregnancy at age 1. OK – slight exaggeration. More like age 13. It’s around this time that we are delighted by the wonders of mother nature and begin to develop breasts, hips, and thighs. And over a period of time, these particular regions of the body continue to grow (or not…). The reason (other than overindulging) is that we are preparing ourselves for motherhood.

It has been found that women tend to store more DHA (or docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid (found in fish, seafood, milk, eggs, etc.), within the hip/thigh region. Apparently this particular fat depot is a real hot spot for the stuff. What’s so good about this DHA stuff? Well, it ensures the healthy growth and development of a baby’s brain. It is incorporated into the nerve cell membranes, allowing for the rapid transmission of information. Pretty essential stuff.

During the later stages of pregnancy and breast-feeding, women tend to lose a greater amount of fat from the hip/thigh region relative to the upper body. This alteration in fat deposition adds further credibility to the finding that this fat depot is critical for the developing infant – obviously there is something good locked within those fat cells. The reason being, just to repeat myself, is that the mother cannot supply enough DHA from her diet and must rely upon the DHA she has stored up within the lower limb fat depot. Apparently, each child depletes the mother’s store, with the first child getting the most (I need to find the paper that backs this up, however, very interesting notion).

What interests me the most – children who live in countries where mothers have high levels of DHA in their breast milk score high on international academic tests, regardless of income. More specifically, children earn the highest scores in places with very high DHA such as Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Women in these countries have four times the amount of DHA in their blood than American women.

I wanted to dig a little deeper (as I was reading the magazine, Psychology Today). I found two studies with incongruent results. One study (a randomized control trial (RCT)) had mothers supplement with a DHA rich fish-oil pill while another (observational study) looked at dietary intake of DHA via seafood. The RCT found no difference between the experimental group and the control group. In fact, they found the intake of DHA to be detrimental in some areas of cognitive function (measured at 18 months of age). Yet, in the observational study found that women who consumed more than 340 g of seafood per week had children who scored better on Verbal IQ, Performance IQ, and Total IQ than children whose mothers at less than 340 g.

Now, an observational study is an observational study. It relies on self-report which is always a challenge. In the RCT, women did not start taking the supplement until around 22 weeks of gestation. That’s approximately 5.5 months into the pregnancy – a potential issue as that is fairly far into the pregnancy. Additionally, the measures used to assess cognitive function in addition to the assessment time points were different between the two studies. To summarize, a fair comparison between the two is not possible. Yet, perhaps the different findings are explained by the fact that one study provided an oral supplement whereas the other looked at seafood intake. Perhaps consuming DHA via seafood (a more natural substance) leads to a greater benefit than oral supplement. I don’t know the answer, I am merely hypothesizing.

Don’t worry, the end is near.

To finish, I want to say two things. First, don’t always accept what you read as dogma. As a pregnant woman or soon-to-be pregnant woman you need to do your research. There is always going to be two sides to a story, you need to read both before you make a choice. And second, I believe the story that says seafood is good for pre-pregnant, pregnant and post-pregnant women. I think oral supplements are OK, but I think accessing the fatty acid in a natural form is much, much better. So start storing up that DHA now, even if childbirth is a few years off! I am sure you will reap many benefits in the interim.

Happy seafood eating!

M

References

Hibbeln, J. et al. 2007. Maternal Seafood Consumption in Pregnancy and Neurodevelopmental Outcomes in Childhood (ALSPAC study): An Observational Cohort Study. The Lancet 369:578-585.

Lassek, W. et al. 2006. Changes in Body Fat Distribution in Relation to Parity in American Women: A Covert Form of Maternal Depletion. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 131:295–302.

Makrides, M. et al. 2010. Effect of DHA Supplementation During Pregnancy on Maternal Depression and Neurodevelopment of Young Children. JAMA 304(15):1675-1683.

Lassek, W, Gaulin, S. Psychology Today. 2012. New York, New York. ISSN 0033-3107.

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