Essential and polyunsaturated fatty acids

The diet during pregnancy and lactation are  essential for the neurological development and the suitable growth of the cilhd, and moreover, a fundamental role can play in the prevention of the harmful effects of the accumulation of toxic products.

Linoleic acid and the Linolenic acid are denominated essential fatty acids (EFA), since they can only be obtained from the diet. These fatty acids are found in vegetables, nuts and cereals, but they come mainly from the consumption of vegetal oils, like sunflower, corn or soybean oils. The polyunsaturated fatty acids form in the organism from the consumption of EFA, but they can also be obtained directly through the diet, basically from the fish consumption.

The polyunsaturated fatty acids are mainly found in the cerebral crust and the retina, fact that suggests their participation in the development of the neuronal and visual function.

In the foetus, the polyunsaturated fatty acids are accumulated preferably in the third trimester of gestation and in the first months of life; for that reason, their consumption through the maternal diet and during the time of breastfeeding is fundamental for a suitable neurological development and growth. This is especially important in the preterm children (born before the 37 weeks of gestation) by the precocious interruption of the maternal contribution.

During the past few years, several studies have analysed the possible effects of the essential and polyunsaturated fatty acid ingestion during pregnancy. Although there is no doubt on the benefits of a rich diet in these elements, there is controversy concerning the polyunsaturated fatty acid being ingested from the fish. Although it must be an important part of the diet for the pregnant women, since it constitutes a good source of proteins of high quality and polyunsaturated fatty acids, the United Nations for Agriculture and Feeding (the UNAF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate, that some fish (for example, the swordfish and the shark) constitute the main nourishing source of methylmercury, for their consumption in pregnant women or young children is not recommended. The levels of this metal can vary in the different geographic areas, and that is why the authorities of public health must advise the consumers basing themselves on the levels found in the species of local consumption.

Maternal milk

Maternal milk constitutes the polyunsaturated fatty acid main source during the first months of life, but it can as well be carrying environmental polluting agents such as lead, mercury, PCB and dioxins, although generally at low doses. The exposure to chemistries before birth has been demonstrated to have adverse effects in the baby, as per the section of environmental polluting agents; nonetheless, there is no evidence that the habitual polluting agents of maternal milk produce damage in the children. This can be due to the baby being less susceptible to these chemical substances than the foetus, or to the protective effect of the maternal milk, fundamentally on the nervous and immune system.

Despite being a pathway of transference of many chemical compounds, maternal milk seems to have properties that favour a better development of the children. In any case, the debate on the role of the breastfeeding in the neurological development of the children is still in the air. Their benefits are more and more evident, but while some studies attribute them exclusively to socioeconomical differences that encourage the women who decide to breastfeed, others affirm that the content of some fatty acids in the maternal milk (that cannot be found in the artificial milk) would explain the best development of the children fed in of natural form.

We can conclude, then, that diet can play a fundamental role in the prevention of the detrimental effects of the toxic product accumulation in our organism. As many of these chemistries are deposited in the body during decades, they must be measured from an early age for prevention. When eating from the childhood a diet reach in fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals and low fat animal products, we will reach quality nutrition and, besides, we will prevent the toxic chemicals charge in the body. Nevertheless, we have to bear in mind that the best way to protect the mothers and the children is reducing or eliminating the production of injurious chemistries.