Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

Omega-3 in pregnancy?

A new study in Australia has examined the link between omega-3 intake and mother’s post natal depression, baby’s cognitive abilities and length of term of pregnancy, and has some results at odds with other studies.

Dr Maria Makrides studied 2,400 Australian women during the second half of their pregnancy. The women were randomly assigned to take either omega-3 fish oil supplement or a vegetable oil placebo.

Omega-3 comes in 3 forms – ALA, DHA and EPA. The most common kind in our diet is ALA, which we can then convert to DHA and EPA, but only inefficiently. DHA and EPA in food are rarer, with oily fish the main source. Since DHA is crucial for brain formation, supplementation in pregnancy is recommended.

Previous studies had concluded that DHA during pregnancy decreased post-natal depression, increased the cognition of babies, and led to longer pregnancy terms.

Dr Makrides study was deliberately sized to be large enough to test these predictions. Despite high doses of DHA, with some EPA, differences in post-natal depression were not statistically significant, there was an odd finding for baby’s cognition, and the lengthening of the term was confirmed.

On baby’s cognition, no overall difference could be found for cognition as a whole. However, in two sub-sets, language and adaptive behaviour, the DHA/EPA girls performed slightly worse than female controls, though boys showed no difference.

There are issues when comparing this study to previous findings. This had high DHA and low EPA, whereas others have focussed on other ratios. Also, a very high proportion (64%) of women who had to be excluded from the trial were excluded because they were already taking DHA supplements, which may imply the remainder were living less healthy lifestyles. Finally, the blood level of DHA was checked using the baby’s cord blood and the level in the “control group was virtually identical to the concentration observed in a cohort of Dutch pregnant women with biochemical DHA insufficiency“, and was only 20% below the DHA/EPA group level.

In an editorial, the focus was on the impact on labour term as DHA cut preterm births significantly. According to the authors “Preterm birth is a serious and thus far intractable public health problem that is the leading cause of neonatal death in the US”.  For the control group, risk of very pre-term birth (under 34 weeks) was double that of the DHA/EPA group.


October 20, 2010 - Posted by | Australia, Brain, Child Health, Depression, Fish, Fish oil, Omega-3, Success

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