Scientists from California and Pennsylvania are suggesting that omega-3 fats are more important for brainpower in girls, than in boys. Presenting data collected from a national nutrition survey (NHANES) and cognitive test scores, they report that consuming omega-3s, found in fish, may be twice as important for girls, than boys.
They also suggest that higher intake of omega-6 fats, as found in soy, sunflower and corn oils, can reduce brain power. Given the enormous increase of omega-6 fats in our food supply today, these findings, if accurate, could have far reaching effects in our country. Brainpower, and the ability to learn and apply new information is necessary for growth and development, individually, nationally and culturally. Could changes we’ve made to our food supply be influencing our smarts?
In light of research known to date, this presents food for fodder. Omega-3s are required nutrients and because humans cannot make them, they need to be consumed in the diet (which is why they are called essential fats).
By far, more boys than girls are diagnosed with attention deficit disorders (ADD) and this condition affects learning. Children with ADD have lower levels of omega-3s in their blood, and supplementing with omega-3s helps these children learn. This supports the idea of increasing omega-3 intake in boys.
This new information suggests a greater need for omega-3s in girls. We know that girls have more fat on their bodies, particularly post puberty, and girls eat fewer calories than boys. Could it be that females retain more omega-3s for reproductive survival? What does this have to do with learning? Do girls simply need more omega-3 for optimal health; does health status impact learning ability?
It’s curious that more boys have attention deficits and lower omega-3 levels, and yet girls with more omega-3 levels have greater brainpower. Looks like omega-3 intake is important for boys and girls (personally, I’m all for hips adding to intelligence!)
In adult women, greater levels of omega-3 during pregnancy improve child’s IQ (both boys and girls). Too little omega-3 during pregnancy is associated with lower IQ in children. We also know that omega-3 helps depression (whether people are on meds or not) and we believe more women than men have depression, although this isn’t certain. It may be that more women are diagnosed with depression, compared to men.
What’s more unsettling in these findings is that more omega-6 was associated with lower test scores. One out of every 10 calories consumed in the US today is omega-6 fat (low average). That is 10%. What is our intake of omega-3 EPA and DHA? It doesn’t even register on the scale. Now that is frightening.