Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pass the Fish

There is an interesting article and accompanying synopsis in PLoS Biology about a candidate gene for schizophrenia. The researchers actually looked for genes correlated with a schizophrenia marker called "prepulse inhibition", the phenomena in which a soft precursor noise will depress the startle reflex caused by a loud noise. Apparently, this is one of the "gating" mechanisms that our brains use to prevent sensory overload, and is disturbed in schizophrenia.

The article identifies a fatty-acid binding protein (Fabp7) as a candidate gene involved in PPI, and by inference also schizophrenia. This protein binds to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), one of the omega-3 fatty acids that you've probably heard a lot about. There is apparently some research that indicates that doses of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), a precursor of DHA, may be helpful in treating schizophrenia (see this review). This, and the well-documented role of the omega-3 fatty acids in brain development and function (which is why we are all encouraged to eat fish and my baby's oatmeal has DHA added to it), make the linking of a fatty acid binding protein to schizophrenia a very nice, neat story.

The study's authors speculate whether increasing the DHA intake of pregnant women deemed at risk of having a schizophrenic child would be beneficial. This is an interesting question, which will probably be studied at some point. It is also a case of the more things change, the more things stay the same: once upon a time, over-bearing mothers were blamed for schizophrenia. Now, apparently it is mothers who don't eat enough fish.

In general, I find the data about what pregnant and nursing women should and shouldn't eat a little bit annoying. I know that this is unfair. The researchers are just trying to understand human development and also provide some advice to help women have healthier babies. However, it can be a bit overwhelming when you are trying to figure out what you should eat. No peanuts- you might cause an allergy! Is your baby gassy? Try cutting out milk products. Eat fish- Baby needs the omega-3s. Don't eat fish- it is contaminated with mercury! I think most mothers are like me. I do my best, but please don't heap on the guilt if I get something not quite right. I'm a person, too, and I have more things to do during the day than research what my optimal diet should be!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent point. You really shouldn't have to research. There's alot of information out there; however, it's very poorly distributed. This leaves mothers like you having to do their own research, or just unaware.

    People should be aware of both the risks and benefits of seafood. The decision of what fish to eat can be a challenge and often contradictory. At the very least, people should know that FDA and EPA have issued advisories about mercury contamination in commonly-sold fish. The problem is, this information is hard to find and is not usually available where it is most necessary: your supermarket.

    Oceana, a conservation group, is trying to get major grocery companies to post this government advice at their seafood counters. Thanks, in part to their work, Whole Foods, Safeway stores, and Wild Oats voluntarily agreed to post the FDA’s recommendations and they have had positive responses from customers and no loss in seafood sales. But other companies like Costco and Giant Eagle have refused to do so. Oceana has a list of which companies care about their customers’ health enough to post this advice, as well as a list of companies that don’t. You can get the Green List and Red List at their website.


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