Research appearing in the journal Early Human Development (Volume 85, Issue 7, July 2009, Pages 421-427) links the levels of antioxidant vitamins in newborns to improved development. Researchers measured levels of vitamins A, C and E in maternal blood and in the blood in the umbilical cord at the time of delivery in 150 sets of mothers and newborns. At age two, the children were evaluated using the Gesell Development Schedules. Children with higher levels of vitamin E at birth had better motor development, as well as language and social skills. Vitamin A levels also had a positive effect on motor development.
Damage from lipid peroxidation can be linked to many complications in the newborn and is especially problematic in premature babies. Research appearing in the Archives of Medical Research (Volume 33, Issue 3, May-June 2002, Pages 276-280) found that preterm infants have lower levels of vitamins A and E than term babies.
The type of fats and oils consumed by children is also important. DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil. It is important for brain development in children. A recent study published in Clinical Pediatrics (2008 May;47(4):355-62) looked at 175 healthy four-year-olds who were supplemented with 400 mg per day of DHA or a placebo. Prior to supplementation and after four months of supplementation, the children were given four tests of cognitive function.
The group given the DHA had blood levels of DHA increase by 300%. Higher DHA levels were associated with improved performance in listening comprehension and vocabulary as measured by the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test. For each increase of 1% in serum DHA, there was as much as a nine-point improvement in the test score.
The type of fats and oils in the diet also may play a role in the development of allergies. Atopy is a term used clinically to apply to a group of diseases of an allergic nature. A team of researchers from Finland wanted to know if the reason for the apparent increase in atopy among children may be related to diet. Specifically, they wanted to look at the consumption of various fatty acids and see if they related to the development of atopic disease. The researchers looked at 231 sex- and age-matched pairs in 1980 and 154 pairs in 1986 and compared dietary data, serum fatty acid composition, and occurrence of atopic diseases. They found that the children who developed allergies tended to eat more margarine (a source of trans fats) and less butter when compared to the children who did not develop allergies. The research appeared in the journal, Allergy (2001;56:425-428).