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Keywords:

  • Breastfeeding;
  • child;
  • preschool;
  • cognition;
  • fatty acids;
  • omega-3;
  • arachidonic acid;
  • EPA;
  • DHA;
  • PUFA;
  • intelligence tests

Aim: Breastfeeding seems to be favorable for cognitive development. Could levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) explain this?Methods: Pregnant mothers were recruited consecutively at maternity care centres. PUFA were analysed in colostrum and breast milk at 1 and 3 mo. The product-precursor ratios of n-6+n-3 PUFA were examined as measures of activity in respective steps in the fatty acid metabolic chain. Also, the quotient between DHA and AA was analysed. The children were tested with the full WISC-III at 6.5 y. Results: First, the influence of length of breastfeeding was analysed by multiple regression together with relevant cofactors (except for PUFA). In the best models, 46% of the variation in total IQ was explained. Length of breastfeeding contributed significantly to total IQ (beta = 0.228, p= 0.021), verbal IQ (beta = 0.204, p= 0.040) and performance IQ (beta = 0.210, p= 0.056). There were no significant single correlations between PUFA and measures of cognitive development. However, in multiple regression analysis of colostrum, significant beta-coefficients were found for steps 4+5 in the fatty acid metabolic chain (beta = 0.559, p= 0.002). If length of breastfeeding and gestation week were added to steps 4+5, this three-factor model could explain 67% of the variation of total IQ. Introducing length of breastfeeding and gestation week together with the quotient DHA/AA (beta = 0.510, p > 0.001) yielded a three-factor model, which explained 76% of the variation in total IQ.

Conclusion: Our findings could be interpreted as supporting the importance of high levels of PUFA for cognitive development. However, the sample is small and the results must be interpreted with caution.