Weekly fish consumption linked to better sleep, higher IQ, study finds

December 21, 2017, University of Pennsylvania
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Children who eat fish at least once a week sleep better and have IQ scores that are 4 points higher, on average, than those who consume fish less frequently or not at all, according to new findings from the University of Pennsylvania published this week in Scientific Reports, a Nature journal.

Previous studies showed a relationship between omega-3s, the fatty acids in many types of , and improved intelligence, as well as omega-3s and better sleep. But they've never all been connected before. This work, conducted by Jianghong Liu, Jennifer Pinto-Martin and Alexandra Hanlon of the School of Nursing and Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor Adrian Raine, reveals sleep as a possible mediating pathway, the potential missing link between fish and intelligence.

"This area of research is not well-developed. It's emerging," said Liu, lead author on the paper and an associate professor of nursing and . "Here we look at omega-3s coming from our food instead of from supplements."

For the work, a cohort of 541 9- to 11-year-olds in China, 54 percent boys and 46 percent girls, completed a questionnaire about how often they consumed fish in the past month, with options ranging from "never" to "at least once per week." They also took the Chinese version of an IQ test called the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised, which examines verbal and non-verbal skills such as vocabulary and coding.

Their parents then answered questions about sleep quality using the standardized Children Sleep Habits Questionnaire, which included topics such as sleep duration and frequency of night waking or daytime sleepiness. Finally, the researchers controlled for demographic information, including parental education, occupation and marital status and number of in the home.

Analyzing these data points, the Penn team found that children who reported eating fish weekly scored 4.8 points higher on the IQ exams than those who said they "seldom" or "never" consumed fish. Those whose meals sometimes included fish scored 3.3 points higher. In addition, increased fish consumption was associated with fewer disturbances of sleep, which the researchers say indicates better overall .

"Lack of sleep is associated with antisocial behavior; poor cognition is associated with antisocial behavior," said Raine, who has appointments in the School of Arts and Sciences and Penn's Perelman School of Medicine. "We have found that omega-3 supplements reduce , so it's not too surprising that fish is behind this."

Pinto-Martin, who is executive director of Penn's Center for Public Health Initiatives, as well as the Viola MacInnes/Independence Professor of Nursing and a professor of epidemiology in Penn Medicine, sees strong potential for the implications of this research.

"It adds to the growing body of evidence showing that has really positive health benefits and should be something more heavily advertised and promoted," she said. "Children should be introduced to it early on." That could be as young as 10 months, as long as the fish has no bones and has been finely chopped, but should start by around age 2.

"Introducing the taste early makes it more palatable," Pinto-Martin said. "It really has to be a concerted effort, especially in a culture where fish is not as commonly served or smelled. Children are sensitive to smell. If they're not used to it, they may shy away from it."

Given the young age of this study group, Liu and colleagues chose not to analyze the details participants reported about the types of fish consumed, though they plan to do so for work on an older cohort in the future. The researchers also want to add to this current observational study to establish, through randomized controlled trials, that eating fish can lead to better sleep, better school performance and other real-life, practical outcomes.

For the moment, the researchers recommend incrementally incorporating additional fish into a diet; consumption even once a week moves a family into the "high" fish-eating group as defined in the study.

"Doing that could be a lot easier than nudging children about going to bed," Raine said. "If the fish improves sleep, great. If it also improves cognitive performance—like we've seen here—even better. It's a double hit."

Explore further: Fish oil or fish consumption? New recommendations for pregnant women trying to prevent childhood asthma

Related Stories

Fish oil or fish consumption? New recommendations for pregnant women trying to prevent childhood asthma

October 30, 2017
Pregnant women who consume fish rather than fish oil supplements are just as likely to protect their offspring from developing asthma.

Eating fish may reduce arthritis symptoms

June 21, 2017
In a recent study, individuals with rheumatoid arthritis who consumed fish ?2 times/week had lower disease activity (swollen/tender joint counts along with other assessments) than those who ate fish never to

Research points to omega-3 as a nutritional intervention for childhood behavioral problems

May 8, 2015
At the forefront of a field known as "neurocriminology," Adrian Raine of the University of Pennsylvania has long studied the interplay between biology and environment when it comes to antisocial and criminal behavior. With ...

Recommended for you

Aging: The natural stress reliever for many women

April 24, 2018
While some research suggests that midlife is a dissatisfying time for women, other studies show that women report feeling less stressed and enjoy a higher quality of life during this period.

People expect their memory to fade as early as their 50s

April 24, 2018
People across the UK expect their memory to worsen in their 50s, according to new research from Heriot-Watt University.

Napping and teenage learning

April 24, 2018
Teenagers and sleep. It's certainly a passionate subject for many American parents, and those in China. University of Delaware's Xiaopeng Ji is investigating the relationship between midday-napping behaviors and neurocognitive ...

Craving a cup of joe? What does the research say about coffee and your health?

April 24, 2018
Coffee. Cup of joe. Java. No matter what you call it, millions of people worldwide wake up and fuel their day with it. And though consumers might be jittery about the recent court battle in California over cancer warnings, ...

Drinking affects mouth bacteria linked to diseases

April 24, 2018
When compared with nondrinkers, men and women who had one or more alcoholic drinks per day had an overabundance of oral bacteria linked to gum disease, some cancers, and heart disease. By contrast, drinkers had fewer bacteria ...

Vigorous physical activity may be linked to heightened risk of motor neurone disease

April 23, 2018
Vigorous physical activity, either in leisure time or in work, may be linked to a heightened risk of developing motor neurone disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS for short, suggests research published ...

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.