News Wave 9 – our regular trawl of the world’s nutrition news

healthy pregnancy
Photo credit: Frank de Kleine via Visual hunt / CC BY

The importance of good nutrition in ensuring a healthy pregnancy has been a key news topic in recent days.

Research has underlined the link between low birthweight[1] and nonaffective psychosis in children.

As described in Medical News Bulletin, nonaffective psychosis is a group of mental disorders encompassing schizophrenia and other delusional disorders. Genetic and environmental factors have long been thought to combine in the development of such conditions. Diet plays a big role in this, and deficiencies in nutrients vital for brain formation, including omega-3 fatty acids, iron and vitamin D, as well as protein malnutrition.

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, looked at 800,000 mothers to amass its evidence that gestational weight gain and risk of psychosis in offspring are directly linked. Weighing up the facts, JAMA asks Prenatal Nutritional Deficiency and Psychosis: Where Do We Go From Here?

The issue of low birthweight is high on the agenda of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Low Omega-3 Concerns

Omega-3, essential to healthy brain development, is woefully lacking in many mothers’ diets. According to University of Nebraska research results published last week in Nutrients: “Omega-3 fatty acid intake is a concern in pregnant women and women of childbearing age in the United States”.

The researchers note: “socioeconomically disadvantaged populations are more susceptible to potential deficiencies. Strategies to increase omega-3 fatty acid intake in these populations could have the potential to improve maternal and infant health outcomes.”

Playing Dirty

Urban pollution
Photo credit: David Holt London via VisualHunt / CC BY

The benefits of omega-3 continue to astound and encourage in equal measure. A recent study at Harvard Medical School found that omega-3 supplementation reduces the inflammation associated with exposure to airborne fine particulate matter.

That’s right – omega-3 protects you from some of the effects of air pollution! It acts, to some extent, as a fatty barrier to the free radicals that bombard the organs of all urban dwelling people.

On a similar theme of ‘diet combats pollution’, a study at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health puts the spotlight on B vitamins and their critical role in reducing the impact of air pollution on the epigenome.

Vitamin E Benefits

Back with pregnant mums, children born to mothers with low levels of vitamin E are more likely to develop asthma. This is according to researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. They pointed out that vegetables oils are a good source of vitamin E, along with certain greens and nuts, olives and avocados. Amongst others.

But, as ever, the situation is not as straightforward as you might hope. Earlier research from Northwestern University suggests that the gamma-tocopherol form of vitamin E (found in soybean, corn and canola oils) is associated with decreased lung function in humans, including asthma. The good cards in the pack are the alpha-tocopherol form of vitamin E, found in olive and sunflower oils. This is the form associated with better lung function.

Poor Prenatal Diet is a Worldwide Problem

Poor gestational weight gain is an international problem, as you would expect from any issue linked to poor diet. For millions the main cause is poverty and the simple lack of nutritious food options. In richer countries the problem is lack of education on this key issue, which may be interpreted as lack of political will to get the message across to parents and would-be parents. As we have highlighted many times, the nutritional path to healthy children begins before pregnancy.

The Irish Times covered the story at the beginning of March, looking at its own female population and finding that their diets failed to match national guidelines on nutrition during pregnancy.

[1] Low birthweight is defined in the US as 2.5 kilos (5 pounds, 8 ounces). Average newborn weight is around 3.6 kilos (8 pounds)

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  1. Pavel Bezdek

    The issue of poverty can’t be overstated. Lack of access to the necessary nutrition means many mothers have no choice but to eat a nutrient-poor diet. Many mothers suffer malnutrition, so what hope for their children? It needs more political will, as you say in your article. There was a Guardian story on this earlier this year, you may have covered it on your website:


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