DHA Omega-3 Supplementation Significantly Improves Pregnancy Outcomes

June 10, 2013


DHA Supplementation and Pregnancy Outcomes
Carlson, S.E. et al., Amer. J. Clinical Nutrition, 97: 808-815, 2013
Dept. of Dietetics and Nutrition, Univ. of Kansas Medical Ctr., Kansas City, Kansas and Dept. of Pediatrics, Univ. of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA


Earlier population studies have reported that higher intakes of fish/seafood and DHA/EPA omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy were associated with a somewhat longer gestation duration along with increased infant growth and higher birth weights. The present randomized supplementation trial was designed to determine if supplementation with DHA can improve gestation duration, infant birth weight and length, plus related health parameters.

For this purpose, 350 women received either supplementation daily with placebo capsules (containing no DHA) or DHA capsules providing 600 mg of DHA daily from < 20 weeks gestation to birth. The mothers’ health and safety was monitored throughout along with the infants (including various growth measures following birth). Blood samples from the women taken at enrollment and at the time of birth and subsequent measurements of DHA levels by gas-liquid chromatography confirmed the expected marked rise in circulating DHA in the DHA-supplemented mothers but not in the controls (receiving placebo supplementation). Interestingly, a significantly greater gestation duration (by 2.9 days/mother overall) was found in those 154 women who received DHA supplementation as compared to the 147 who did not. Furthermore, infant sizes at birth were significantly greater if their mothers were given the DHA supplements such that birth weights were higher by an average of 59.3 grams , birth length by 0.7 cm, and head circumference by 0.5 cm. The prevalence of low birth-weight infants (> 2500 grams) was only 3.9 % in the DHA group as compared to 9.0% in the control group (no DHA supplementation). With respect to the prevalence of very low birth-weight infants (< 1500 grams), none were found in the DHA group while 3.4 % were in this category if the mother was not supplemented with DHA. A markedly lower assignment to the intensive care unit (only 7.8 % versus 38.4 %) for the DHA group and much shorter hospital stays for infants born preterm (40.8 compared to 8.9 days) from the DHA-supplemented mothers was also found. Finally, the study did not identify any serious safety concerns related to DHA supplementation for the mothers or the newborn babies.

Dr. Holub's Comments:

This recent and very well-conducted clinical trial along with previous studies on this topic provide very strong support for regular DHA supplementation as a health care strategy during pregnancy for mothers who are consuming well below 600 mg DHA/day from fish/seafood and other sources. In North America, various studies on intakes including a Canadian study which our group at the University of Guelph conducted (J. Nutr., 135: 206-211 (2005)) have indicated average DHA intakes during pregnancy to be only approximately 80 mg/day – about 1/7th of that employed in the present study. In addition to the obvious health benefits to the infant based on this and other clinical/research evidence , savings in health care costs could be very substantial . It is also noted that the DHA intake via supplementation in this current trial is commonplace amongst large numbers of mothers in Japan who consume fish/seafood several times per week.

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