Mother’s diet during pregnancy could affect risk of ADHD symptoms, study says

The risk of a child developing symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be modulated by the mother’s diet during pregnancy, according to a new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health analyzed samples of umbilical cord plasma to identify the levels of omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids that reach the fetus. The authors studied data from 600 children living in four Spanish regions, Asturias, Basque Country, Catalonia, and Valencia. They analyzed umbilical cord plasma and questionnaires completed by the children’s mothers. ADHD symptoms were also assessed using two standard questionnaires, the first completed by the children’s teachers at four years old, and the second by their parents at age seven years old.

The results showed that, at age seven years old, the number of ADHD symptoms increased by 13 percent per unit increase in the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in umbilical cord plasma, according to a press statement. Researchers analyzed the number of symptoms in children who met the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, as well as children with a smaller number of symptoms. Through statistical analysis, they found a ratio of the two fatty acids was associated with the number of ADHD symptoms present, but not with diagnosis of the disorder.

Although the finding is not clinically significant, the study adds more evidence to the growing body of research on the importance of maternal diet during pregnancy, according to Jordi Júlvez, PhD, co-author of the study.

"The nutrient supply during the earliest stages of life is essential in that it programs the structure and function of the organs, and this programming, in turn, has an impact on health at every stage of life,” said Júlvez in a press statement. “As the brain takes a long time to develop, it is particularly vulnerable to mis-programming. Alterations of this sort could therefore lead to neurodevelopmental disorders."