Omega-3 supplements may be ‘most efficient’ way to support neonatal development, researchers say

By Olivia Brown

- Last updated on GMT

© AntonioGuillem / Getty Images
© AntonioGuillem / Getty Images

Related tags omega-3 Omega-3 fatty acid Eicosapentaenoic acid Docosahexaenoic acid maternal nutrition infant health Prenatal

Supplements of omega-3 raise blood levels of the fatty acids for both pregnant mothers and their babies via the umbilical cord, according to a new prospective cohort study.

It was also reported that after supplementing with DHA, levels of maternal DHA increased in erythrocyte phospholipids, serum, and breast milk.

“Our results confirmed usage of ‘omega’ dietary supplements as an efficient way of increasing the availability of EPA and DHA for infants,” ​stated Warsaw, Poland-based researchers in Nutrients​.

Essential Fats

There are established recommendations for the intake of essential fatty acids (EFA) and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC PUFAs) for pregnant women, due to the recognised importance to the mother and child’s health. It has been found that these types of fats can increase gestational period and birth weight, as well as support the development of the child, in terms of the central nervous system and cognitive function.

“LC PUFA, especially DHA, plays a pivotal role in the development of the central nervous system, visual acuity, and cognitive functions. It depends on the involvement in maintaining membrane fluidity, impulse propagation, synaptic transmission, and functioning as a cytosolic signal-transducing factors for various gene expression during the critical period of brain development, which seems to be last trimester and first few months after birth,​” the researchers explain.

Due to the importance of these types of fatty acids, the present study sought to first analyse the frequency of consumption of fat sources as well as ‘omega’ supplements in pregnant patients. Secondly, the researchers measured the n-3 and n-6 serum FA contents at the time of labour of the pregnant women and their children using the GC-FID technique, to investigate subsequent nutritional status. The efficacy as well as the usefulness of the ‘omega’ supplements were then established.

Study details

Patients from the Anna Mazowiecka Clinical Hospital, consisting of 161 pregnant women, were administered dietary questionnaires to obtain data indicating dietary fat consumption as well as omega-3 supplement usage. The fatty acid profile was then assessed by obtaining maternal and umbilical cord blood samples at delivery.

The results found that 40% of the women were taking ‘omega’ dietary supplements. It was observed that taking such supplements was found to significantly increase serum levels of DHA in the pregnant women, compared to those who were not supplementing.

Additionally, it was observed that the LC-PUFA could penetrate the umbilical cord, with the blood containing significantly increased levels of EPA and DHA. As a result, the researchers concluded that utilising these supplements could be the most efficient route to achieving optical LC-PUFA status for the developing child.

The future for recommendations

The present study provides evidence that omega-3 supplements appear to boost both maternal and infant LC-PUFA levels at a time of critical need for normal development of the child.

With the researcher’s highlighting the low intake of fish observed among the studied population, Kaitlin Roke, director of scientific communication at the Global Organisation for EPA and DHA Omega-3, tells NutraIngredients “This is common across many populations.

“If this is the case, a supplement containing DHA and/or EPA would be necessary, particularly for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Some pre- and post-natal supplements may contain omega-3s in combination with other nutrients, but the levels are rarely adequate. Typically, getting a higher concentration means looking for a separate omega-3 supplement in addition to a prenatal vitamin “.

The findings provide interesting insight into shaping the future of recommendations for pregnant women, with Roke adding “Since DHA plays such a critical role in infant brain and eye development, most recommendations are ~200mg of DHA per day, but this is too low, particularly for the benefit of reducing the risk of preterm birth.

“Science is constantly evolving, and this recommendation could be modified as more research is conducted. The important message is that pregnant and breastfeeding women need to get adequate amounts of DHA through food and/or supplements.”, ​she concludes, highlighting the relevance of such research.

Source: Nutrients
“Increased LC PUFA Levels in the Serum of Pregnant Women and Their Children as a Result of Dietary Supplementation with ‘Omega’ Fatty Acids”
Authors: M. Broś-Konopielko, et al.

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