Maternal intake of flaxseed-based diet (Linum usitatissimum) on hippocampus fatty acid profile: implications for growth, locomotor activity and spatial memory

Nutrition. 2011 Oct;27(10):1040-7. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2010.11.001. Epub 2011 Mar 25.


Objective: To investigate flaxseed as a partial source of protein and an exclusive source of lipids and fibers in the development of the central nervous system by analyzing hippocampal fatty acid composition and cognitive and locomotor functions.

Methods: Experimental diets were given to dams during preconception, pregnancy, and lactation and to their pups after weaning. Female Wistar rats were separated into three groups according to experimental diet: a control group (CG) and a flaxseed group (FG), fed ad libitum diets, and a modified control group (MCG), pair-fed with the FG. After weaning, the pups received their mothers' diets. After 30 d, eight males from each group were tested in a Morris water maze to assess learning, memory, and motor function.

Results: The offspring of FG dams showed a lower body mass than CG dams, probably due to non-nutritional factors and an imbalance between ω-3 and ω-6 fatty acids of the seed, and displayed a higher concentration of α-linolenic acid, possibly suggesting inhibition of arachidonic acid synthesis. The content of docosahexaenoic acid in the hippocampus was higher in the FG followed by the MCG compared with the CG. Hippocampal docosahexaenoic acid content correlated with better spatial memory performance in the FG, whereas arachidonic acid content correlated with longer time in solving the task.

Conclusion: Flaxseed during perinatal and postweaning periods improves spatial memory to the detriment of growth. These findings indicate that there must be caution in encouraging the maternal intake of flaxseed during pregnancy and lactation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arachidonic Acid / metabolism
  • Body Weight
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Fats / metabolism*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / blood
  • Fatty Acids / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Flax / chemistry*
  • Growth / drug effects
  • Growth Disorders / etiology
  • Growth Disorders / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / drug effects*
  • Hippocampus / growth & development
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Lactation
  • Linseed Oil / pharmacology*
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Maze Learning
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Seeds


  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Arachidonic Acid
  • Linseed Oil