Fatty Acids During Pregnancy Affect Anxiety Symptoms in Offspring

Essential fatty acid deficiency (EFAD) is a highly explored topic. The fatty acids n-3 and n-6 are necessary for proper neurological and biological development. These acids are not naturally occurring and must be supplemented through proper diet by eating foods high in fatty acids, including fish. Some research has suggested that EFAD during pregnancy could make children more vulnerable to mental and behavioral problems such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or decreased IQ. Overall, existing research supports the theory that EFAD during pregnancy can negatively impact development and even impair memory and learning in later life. In order to better understand how EFAD during gestation affects offspring, Vilborg Palsdottir of the Department of Physiology/Endocrinology at the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden conducted a study examining the development of newborn female mice whose mothers had EFAD during pregnancy.

First, Palsdottir looked at how EFAD affected risky behavior, impulsivity, memory, learning, anxiety, and behavior in adulthood. The study also examined how fatty acid levels during weaning affected the overall brain composition of the mice after 3 weeks postnatal. The study revealed that EFAD and malnutrition during pregnancy resulted in decreased anxiety during adulthood. The brain composition of the mice was altered as a result of the EFAD, which could influence the way in which the mice responded to stress. Additionally, Palsdottir discovered that EFAD also increased risk-taking behaviors in the mice. The mice also exhibited lower levels of learning and memory capacity as a result of EFAD during gestation. “In conclusion, EFAD from ED16 to PND21 decreases the proportion of n-3 fatty acids and increases the proportion of n-6 fatty acids in the brain at the time of weaning.” Palsdottir added, “Thus, these data indicate that the late fetal stage and suckling period is a vulnerable time point for nutritional deficiencies leading to altered behavioral responses during adult life.”

Palsdottir, V., Månsson, J.-E., Blomqvist, M., Egecioglu, E., & Olsson, B. (2012). Long-Term Effects of Perinatal Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency on Anxiety-Related Behavior in Mice. Behavioral Neuroscience. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027161

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  • amy h

    amy h

    March 8th, 2012 at 1:48 PM

    Now when I was pregnant I was warned against eating certain types of fish, seems like it was salmon or tuna. But this study seems to contradict this. Is it safe to eat when pregnant or not?

  • Thea


    March 8th, 2012 at 4:28 PM

    It is always important to eat a healthy diet but even more so when you are expecting. I see so many young women who are pregnant and who act like they don’t even care about the junk they are feeding their own body and therefore the baby. Makes me kind of sick and want to give them a lecture, but I’m not the mama so I try to keep my mouth shut.

  • KimD


    March 9th, 2012 at 2:05 PM

    Eating a well balanced and highly nutritious diet is important for all of us, and it is especially critical that mothers get the right nutrients for their unborn children.

    You do have to have some things in moderation, but these fatty acids are important to the overall health and well being of the child.

    We could all stand to have a few dietary improvements or two, but I do wish that we could get this message out loud and clear about how important it is to eat as healthy as possible while pregnant, so that you are not setting your child up for disease later on.

  • paul


    March 9th, 2012 at 7:56 PM

    with everybody now payin attention to and even deciding as to when their baby should be born and so much stress on the baby’s name being ‘unique’,how many parents-to-be are actually concentrating in the mother following a great diet during pregnancy?that is far more important than the birth date or how unique the name is!

  • Betty


    March 10th, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    big challenge here: what about the girls who think it’s too pricey to eat healthy and fresh? what do we do about that?

  • Marco


    March 12th, 2012 at 4:08 PM

    Look this is all a matter of education and getting that education to the people who need it.
    Obviously most of the people on this website know just how important it is for the mother of an unborn child to eat the right foods while prgnant, to exercise, take care of themselves, etc.
    The real question becomes how do we get this messgae to the members of society who have not quite bought into this logic yet, who still think it’s ok to party like a roack star while pregnant.
    How do we get the news to them that these are critical elements for fetal development and that it needs to be taken more seriously?

  • Springdale Clinic

    Springdale Clinic

    January 9th, 2013 at 2:59 AM

    Wow, this is interesting and I was wondering if these fatty acids can be replaced in adulthood to help combat anxiety? It is also interesting that in my thrid child I actually took Fatty acid supplementation and this child does exhibit calmer behavior with more organized cognition than my other children. He has a memory like an elephant, where the others had anxiety at a very early age. If this holds true, we could wipe out most of anxiety just by eating the proper diet during pregnancy!

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