Lack of fish in diet linked to anxiety in pregnancy

July 15, 2013
Lack of fish in diet linked to anxiety in pregnancy

Women who do not eat fish during pregnancy are more likely to experience high levels of anxiety at that time. Researchers from Children of the 90s at the University of Bristol and the Federal University of Rio de Janiero, Brazil, have found a link between the types of diet eaten, particularly whether this includes fish, and anxiety in pregnancy. They suggest that eating fish during pregnancy could help reduce stress levels.

Most women experience some stress during pregnancy but excessive anxiety is not good for the mother's long-term health and can result in their baby being born prematurely and/or having a .

As well as looking at intake the study of more than 9,500 categorised women's diets by the frequency with which different types of foods were eaten and identified five . They are roughly described as: health-conscious (1), traditional (2), processed (3), confectionery (4) and vegetarian (5).

The researchers found that women who never ate seafood had a 53 per cent greater likelihood of having high levels of anxiety at 32 weeks of pregnancy when compared to women who ate seafood regularly. The results suggest that two meals of white fish and one meal of oily fish each week would be an adequate amount of fish to consume. This was the case after taking into account 14 different factors that could affect anxiety, including drinking, smoking and family adversity during pregnancy.

When the researchers investigated the dietary patterns, women in the top third of the vegetarian type of diet pattern were 25 per cent more likely to experience anxiety than women in the bottom third.

There was also evidence that women in the top third of the health-conscious dietary pattern were 23 per cent less likely to have high levels of anxiety when compared to women in the bottom third.

Women in the top third of the pattern were 16 per cent less likely to have high when compared to women in the bottom third. 

These findings, the researchers suggest, may be due to the lack of fish and meat in a vegetarian type of diet and because a pregnant woman's nutritional requirements increase during pregnancy, due to the demands of the growing fetus, which gets all its nutrients from the mother.

Dr Juliana Vaz, the report's senior author, said: "An important message from this research is that in order to have a healthy pregnancy, women need to follow a healthy diet and not something special for pregnancy. It means a diet containing whole cereals, vegetables, salad, fruit, dairy foods, meat, poultry, pulses and including fish – three portions per week with at least one of oily fish, such as salmon, sardine or tuna. Sweets and fast-foods should be kept to a minimum because they are low in nutrients."

Dr Pauline Emmett, senior dietician at Children of the 90s, and a co-author of the report, said: "It is possible, but not proved, that this association with fish is due to the omega-3 fatty acid content of the fish. For vegetarians there are dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids especially flax oils, algae oils and nuts and seeds such as walnuts. There are also products such as omega-3 eggs and milk on the market which they could choose. Some vegetarians are happy to eat fish from time to time and we would encourage this especially as we are not sure what ingredient in fish is the most effective."

Professor Jean Golding, one of the report's authors and founder of Children of the 90s, added: "Previous research from Children of the 90s has shown the beneficial effects of eating oily fish during pregnancy on a child's IQ and eyesight. This new paper highlights the importance of oily fish for a mother's mental health and consequently the health and development of her baby.

"Any pregnant woman who is concerned about her diet should seek advice from her midwife or GP."

These are the foods that most characterise the different types of diet (they are not the only foods eaten).

1. Health-conscious pattern: salad, fruit, fruit juice, rice, pasta, oat/bran based breakfast cereal, fish, pulses, cheese, whole-grain bread.
2. Traditional pattern: red meat, poultry, vegetables, potatoes.
3. Processed pattern: meat pies, sausages, burgers, fried foods, pizza, chips, white bread, eggs, baked beans.
4. Confectionery pattern: chocolate, sweets, biscuits, cakes, puddings
5. Vegetarian pattern: meat substitutes, pulses, nuts, herbal tea
6. A detailed factsheet on omega-3 fatty acids is available to download from the British Dietetic Association's (BDA) website www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/omega3.pdf.
7. The BDA recommends that everyone should try to eat two portions of fish per week, one of which should be oily. Their guideline portion amounts are for 18 months to three years: a quarter to one small fillet or 1-3 tbsps; four to six years: half to one small fillet or 2-4 tbsps; seven to eleven years: one to one and a half small fillets or 3-5 tbsps; 12 years to adult: 140g (5 oz) fresh fish or 1 small can .

Explore further: Variety and convenience can help women boost their intake of fish

More information: The paper, 'Dietary patterns, n-3 fatty acids intake from seafood and high levels of anxiety symptoms during pregnancy: findings from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children' by Juliana S. Vaz, is published today (13 July 2013) in PLOS ONE dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0067671

Related Stories

Variety and convenience can help women boost their intake of fish

May 6, 2013
Women are often told to eat more red meat, yet Flinders University PhD candidate Lily Chan (pictured) says it is just as important for women to increase their weekly fish intake.

Eating salmon while pregnant affects contents of mother's milk

August 3, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Mothers who eat more salmon before giving birth boost levels of a vital nutrient in their breast milk, but could lower levels of disease-fighting antibodies they pass on while feeding their baby, researchers ...

Higher mercury levels in humans associated with increased risk for diabetes

April 8, 2013
A new study found that higher levels of mercury exposure in young adults increased their risks for type 2 diabetes later in life by 65 percent. The study, led by Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington epidemiologist ...

Iodine deficiency during pregnancy may adversely affect children's mental development

May 21, 2013
A study of around 1,000 UK mothers and their children, published in The Lancet, has revealed that iodine deficiency in pregnancy may have an adverse effect on children's mental development. The research raises concerns that ...

Two servings of salmon a week is healthy for pregnant women and their babies: study

March 20, 2012
University of Granada researchers have proven that eating two servings of salmon reared at a fish farm (enriched with omega-3 fatty acids and only slightly contaminated) a week during pregnancy is beneficial both for the ...

Diet high in vegetables and fruit associated with less weight gain in African-American women

May 20, 2011
Investigators from the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University have reported that African American women who consumed a diet high in vegetables and fruit gained less weight over a 14-year period than those who consumed ...

Recommended for you

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

High-dose vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles for children

July 18, 2017
Giving children high doses of vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles, a new study has found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.