Low omega-3 intakes a ‘concern’ for pregnant women: US data

By Stephen Daniells contact

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock
Pregnant women in the US should be encouraged to consume more omega-3s, with a new analysis showing that intakes of EPA and DHA are falling short of recommendations. 

Intakes of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in pregnant and non-pregnant women were only 66 mg/day and 58 mg/day, respectively, falling well below the 300 mg/day recommended by members of the Workshop on the Essentiality of and Recommended Dietary Intakes for Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acid.

Researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center noted that these intakes do not include dietary supplements, but additional data indicated that only 1.8% of non-pregnant and 9.0% of pregnant women took EPA and/or DHA supplements. 

DHA and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) play critical roles for growth and development, with recent analyses indicating significant reductions in early preterm birth​, a reduced risk of asthma in the children​, and improved attention in children.

“Our results demonstrate that omega-3 fatty acid intake is a concern in pregnant women and women of childbearing age in the United States, and that socioeconomically disadvantaged populations are more susceptible to potential deficiencies,” ​they wrote in Nutrients​.

“Strategies to increase omega-3 fatty acid intake in these populations could have the potential to improve maternal and infant health outcomes.”

“Encourage increased omega-3 intake”

Commenting independently on the study’s findings, Harry Rice, PhD, VP of scientific and regulatory affairs for Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), told us: “Time and time again, results from well designed and executed research demonstrates the benefits of EPA/DHA omega-3 supplementation for pregnant women, particularly when it comes to reducing the likelihood of early preterm birth.

“Experts know that carrying a baby full-term strongly increases the likelihood of a healthy baby post-delivery, which means omega-3 consumption is crucial for pregnant women. The current research underscores the need to encourage increased omega-3 intake via fatty fish consumption and/or supplementation.”

Study details

premature baby infant child mother iStock Ondrooo
Omega-3s have been linked to significant reductions in early preterm birth, a reduced risk of asthma in the children, and improved attention in children. Image: iStock/Ondrooo

The Nebraska-based scientists used data from 7,266 women participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2003–2012. Of these, 6,478 were women of childbearing age, while 788 were pregnant at the time of the survey.

The data indicated that the mean EPA+DHA intake of the population was 89 mg, and there were no significant difference between pregnant and non-pregnant women.

Breaking the data down into subgroups, the researchers found that omega-3 intakes fell with increasing poverty. In addition, women with college degrees had higher intakes than women with only high school diplomas or those who didn’t graduate high school.

“Race was also significantly associated with omega-3 fatty acid intake; non-Hispanic white women of childbearing age had the lowest intake of EPA+DHA, averaging 78 mg/day compared to Hispanic women (94 mg/day), non-Hispanic Black women (112 mg/day), and women of other races, including multi-racial (142 mg/day),” ​reported the researchers.

“More research is needed to determine what type of interventions will be best for specific populations, especially the low-income populations that bear a greater burden of poor diet quality and adverse maternal-child outcomes.

“As the population of the United States becomes more diverse, issues regarding health and disparities in diet become even more salient.”

Source: Nutrients
2017, 9​(3), 197; doi:10.3390/nu9030197
“Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake of Pregnant Women and Women of Childbearing Age in the United States: Potential for Deficiency?”
Authors: T.M. Nordgren et al. 

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