Scientific literature is increasingly reporting on dietary deficiencies in many populations of some nutrients critical for foetal and infant brain development and function.
Purpose: To highlight the potential benefits of maternal supplementation with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and other important complimentary nutrients, including vitamin D, folic acid and iodine during pregnancy and/or breast feeding for foetal and/or infant brain development and/or function.
Methods: English language systematic reviews, meta-analyses, randomised controlled trials, cohort studies, cross-sectional and case-control studies were obtained through searches on MEDLINE and the Cochrane Register of Controlled Trials from January 2000 through to February 2012 and reference lists of retrieved articles. Reports were selected if they included benefits and harms of maternal supplementation of DHA, vitamin D, folic acid or iodine supplementation during pregnancy and/or lactation.
Results: Maternal DHA intake during pregnancy and/or lactation can prolong high risk pregnancies, increase birth weight, head circumference and birth length, and can enhance visual acuity, hand and eye co-ordination, attention, problem solving and information processing. Vitamin D helps maintain pregnancy and promotes normal skeletal and brain development. Folic acid is necessary for normal foetal spine, brain and skull development. Iodine is essential for thyroid hormone production necessary for normal brain and nervous system development during gestation that impacts childhood function.
Conclusion: Maternal supplementation within recommended safe intakes in populations with dietary deficiencies may prevent many brain and central nervous system malfunctions and even enhance brain development and function in their offspring.
Keywords: DHA; brain development; brain function; docosahexaenoic acid; eye function; foetal development; folic acid; infant development; iodine; vitamin D.