A significant component of what makes us intelligent is created from our mother’s fat stores. Unfortunately the fats which dominate margarines and processed food stop that absorption happening and impair intelligence in children to a greater degree than was ever caused by lead. If you want your kids to be as smart as they can be then they (and you) need to immediately stop eating those fats.
About 10% of our brain is made from an Omega-3 fat called DHA (docosahexaenoic acid for the biochemists amongst us). We can make DHA from a simpler omega-3 fat called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). That’s the form of omega-3 which exists in most of our food.
Unfortunately we are not very good at converting dietary omega-3 ALA into DHA. Less than half a percent of the ALA we consume ends up as DHA. This means that relying on mum to eat enough omega-3 ALA while she’s pregnant would be a disastrous strategy for baby brain building.
Luckily we have a plan. As soon as a woman reaches puberty her body starts storing up as much Omega-3 fat as it can. Uniquely among animals (because we are the only ones who need to build relatively gigantic brains), female humans store all that omega-3 ALA in a baby pantry located at the top of the legs and in the buttocks.
Unfortunately for girls who wish to become Supermodels, the body cannot tell the difference between the various sorts of fat, so it just stores all the fat it can find in the hope that enough of it will be the good stuff.
Since the point of storing the fat is to ensure there is enough (ALA to make) DHA to make a baby’s brain, the body will not easily let go of it. That is, until the third trimester of pregnancy. Then the floodgates are opened and the fat is released. Because brain construction doesn’t finish when a child is born, it’s also important that the supply of DHA continues after the baby is born. Breast milk (and now formula) contains large amounts of DHA. In total, 80% of the fat used in construction of a child’s brain comes from the mother’s stores (rather than her current diet). So perhaps the old saying should be ‘A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips in your child’s brain’
We know from animal studies that if there is not enough DHA, animals end up with brains that don’t have enough neurons, the cells that do all the work in our brains. That lack of basic circuitry in turn impairs the child’s development and intelligence. And it looks like the results hold in humans as well.
Just last month, a study in humans was able to show that the amount of DHA in breast milk was the strongest predictor of test performance across samples drawn from 28 OECD countries.
But before you start force-feeding teenage girls, mothers and kids fish oil tablets, you should know that there is a little twist in this tale. Omega-6 fats stop us using DHA to make us brainy. So it doesn’t matter how much Omega-3 you have if you also consume too much Omega-6.
Omega-6 fats are the dominant fat in seed oils (canola, soybean, grapeseed, corn, sunflower etc). These are the fats that margarine is made from. These are the fats which are now used in every packaged food on the supermarket shelf. And these are the foods in which every fried food is boiled. We now eat 10-20 times as much omega-6 fat as omega-3 fat.
Omega-6 fats compete with Omega-3 fats for the same enzymes. Critically one of those is the enzyme which turns garden variety omega-3 ALA into DHA. If we have equal amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 in our diet, just the right amount of DHA is created and all is good, but if we have too much omega-6, we fail to make enough DHA.
You might predict from that, that countries that eat a lot of seed oils loaded with omega-6 would tend not to do so well in tests and you’d be right. The researchers in the most recent study found that there was a very strong correlation between the amount of omega-6 in the diet and how poorly 15 year olds did on standard international benchmark tests.
This confirmed the findings of five previous human studies which showed that higher omega-6 intakes impaired cognition (made us dumb – translation provided in case you’ve been hitting the margarine). Indeed one 2011 study determined that the impairment was greater than the effect of lead!! (double exclamation points are well and truly warranted on that statement)
Just like omega-3 fats, omega-6 fats are stored in the baby pantry, ready to use when needed. So the fats used to construct a baby’s brain are not just the fats a woman is eating when she’s pregnant or breastfeeding. They are every fat she has stored since puberty (or since the last baby used them up). Babies being constructed today are having brains built from the fats used in processed food for the last 20 years.
We now use unleaded petrol because of the damage lead in petrol did to developing brains. If we want the next generation not to be ‘cognitively impaired’ by seed oils, we need to act now.
We need to ensure that (at the very least) young women are not consuming foods overloaded with omega-6 fats. This means no margarine, almost no processed food and no commercially fried food. In other words they need to eat real food and they need to do it now.
If they do this their children will be smart enough to thank them for it.
Image courtesy of Phaitoon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net