THE IMPORTANCE OF OMEGA-3'S DURING PREGNANCY

Much of the early research in the area of omega-3s focused on heart disease. Dozens of observational studies have shown that eating fish lowers the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Omega-3s protect against heart disease by reducing clot formation, inhibiting the growth of arterial plaque, decreasing triglycerides, decreasing arrhythmias, and reducing inflammation. In addition to their cardiovascular advantages, DHA and EPA have myriad other benefits. They may help prevent and treat of a wide variety of health conditions including dementia/Alzheimer’s, cancer, macular degeneration, asthma, colitis, depression, ADHD, diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and obesity.

The omega-3 fatty acids are essential and can only be obtained from the diet. Maintaining optimal levels of omega-3’s is important for all of us, but one population that deserves special attention is women who are pregnant and nursing. The omega-3 fatty acids are critical for optimal brain health and function at all ages of life but these essential fatty acids play a vital role during fetal development and infancy. Pregnant women have a higher requirement of omega-3s, in particular DHA, because of the rapid cell growth and development of new tissues and organ systems. Optimal development of the brain and central nervous system, the eyes, and the immune system - have all been associated with adequate intake of DHA. In fact, DHA is a major structural fat in the human brain and eyes, representing about 97% of all omega-3 fats in the brain and 93% of all omega-3 fats in the retina. During the last trimester, the fetus accumulates 50-70 mg DHA each day, nearly the same amount that most American’s consume from diet alone. Both the mother’s DHA intake and circulating DHA concentrations are important in determining fetal blood concentrations of DHA. Without supplementation, maternal levels of omega-3s will decrease during pregnancy and will be further decreased when breast-feeding, as the essential fatty acids are also components of breast milk. These nutrients continue to be vitally important for development of the brain during infancy and this is the reason DHA is now added to infant formulas. Babies continue to accrue DHA into the central nervous system until about 18 months of age.

Laura Denson Baum, MD