Another Reason to Get Omega-3s During Pregnancy
June 26, 2008—It is well known that folic acid may help prevent birth defects if taken during pregnancy, and more evidence emerges all the time about the role of other nutrients, such as essential fatty acids from fish and other sources. Prior studies have shown that children who don’t get enough fatty acids in early childhood may have impaired vision and brain functioning and recent studies suggest that essential fatty acids taken by a mother in pregnancy support a developing child’s brain and central nervous system. Most recently, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that pregnant women who supplement with an omega-3 fatty acid have babies with sharper vision.
The current study sought to determine if supplementing with the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) among pregnant women could improve their infants’ development. Among 135 women, 14 to 16 weeks into their pregnancy, half were randomly assigned to take 400 mg per day of supplemental DHA—the equivalent of eating about one pound of fatty fish such as salmon per week—or placebo.
All women continued their usual diet, which provided 10 to 760 mg of DHA per day. Compared to baby girls from the placebo group, babies whose mothers supplemented with DHA had significantly higher visual acuity scores 60 days after birth.
The International Society for the Study of Lipids and Fatty Acids recommends that all women consume 300 mg per day of DHA. The study’s authors determined that a DHA supplement of 400 mg per day should result in a low risk for DHA deficiency, although the optimal daily dosage is still not known.
Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids
To get more omega-3s in your diet, try these foods:
• Fatty fish such as salmon and sardines, and catfish, shrimp, and canned light tuna. Pregnant women are advised to limit their fish intake to two servings per week and to avoid fish that are more likely to be contaminated, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.
• Beans, seeds, and nuts such as soybeans, walnuts, and flaxseed.
• Dark green vegetables.
Mothers-to-be should check with their doctor about appropriate dietary and supplemental recommendations.
(Am J Clin Nutr 2008:87:548–57)
Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, Web sites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.
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