Mental health problems in women and children represent a significant public health problem worldwide, especially in developing countries.

The role of nutrition as a cost-effective approach in the prevention and management of these conditions has received recent attention, particularly nutrients such as iron, zinc, and n-3 (omega-3) fatty acids, which play a role in brain structure and function.

The objective of this article was to review current evidence on the relation between n-3 fatty acids, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and maternal and child mental health disorders. Human studies published in English were identified from Medline databases (1966 to June 2008) by using key search terms and review articles.

A summary of the role of DHA in the human brain is followed by a review of human studies, both observational and intervention trials, that examine the relation between n-3 fatty acids such as DHA and depression and child mental health disorders.

Observational studies support a direct association between poor n-3 fatty acid status and increased risk of maternal depression and childhood behavioral disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, evidence from intervention trials is weak.

Most of the studies reviewed had small sample sizes and were conducted in clinically diagnosed samples, with no placebo-controlled groups. Little is known about the benefits of DHA in the prevention of maternal depression and ADHD. Large, well-designed, community-based prevention trials are needed.

PMID: 19176728

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