How to Have a Smarter Child
Heredity, of course, has a lot to do with how smart your child will turn out. But the environment in which he or she develops is an important factor.
First, Do No Harm continued...
"Most devastating developmental conditions result from
prenatal damage," Darvill says. "If Mom drinks alcohol or uses other
recreational drugs, she should stop."
Brain cells depend on chemical signals to tell them where to
go, how to connect, and which genes to turn on or off. "Any foreign
substance that interferes with the clear transmission of these chemical
messages can impact negatively on development," says Darvill.
"Any kind of drug use -- running the gamut from caffeine to
heroin -- has the potential to limit the later intellectual development of the
unborn child," Shawn K. Acheson, PhD, tells WebMD.
While the evidence is most clear-cut for alcohol, pregnant
women should avoid all drugs, says Acheson, an assistant professor of
psychology at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C.
"It's commonsense stuff, but I still see incredibly
intelligent pregnant women who should know better continuing to smoke," she
Less obvious enemies can be equally deadly to the developing
brain. One of these is lead from old paint and plumbing. Families living in
older homes should have their air and water tested, Darvill says.
Seafood from contaminated waters may harbor brain toxins such
as PCBs, methyl mercury, lead, cadmium, and pesticides. Warnings by authorities
against eating local fish should be taken seriously by pregnant women, says
Philippe Grandjean, MD, professor of environmental health at Boston University
School of Public Health. The FDA says moms-to-be should avoid swordfish, king
mackerel, tilefish, and other large ocean fish that tend to concentrate toxic
Especially during the first trimester, infections like German
measles or toxoplasmosis, which is caused by a parasite that can be contracted
through contact with infected cat feces, can wreak havoc on the embryonic
brain. So pregnant women should stay away from sick children and avoid changing
the litter box whenever possible.
Thyroid disease is another culprit that can sneak up unnoticed,
says endocrinologist John Lazarus, MD. Babies born to women with low thyroid
function are more likely to have low IQ. To determine whether thyroid
replacement in similar women might help, his group at the University of Wales
College of Medicine in Cardiff has started a seven-year clinical study.