Low Intakes of Omega-3 Fatty Acids by Pregnant Women Poses Public Health Concern

April 10, 2017


Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake of Pregnant Women and Women of Childbearing Age in the United States: Potential for Deficiency?
Nordgren, T. M. et al., Nutrients, in press, 2017
Dept. of Internal Medicine, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, Nebraska, USA


Substantial intakes of long-chain polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids (particularly DHA plus EPA) during pregnancy have been shown to provide various health benefits to the offspring during infancy and extending throughout childhood and beyond. The present assessment utilized the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) cycles 2003-2012 to assess the intakes of DHA plus EPA by 788 pregnant women (average age of 28.1 years) and 6478 non-pregnant women (average age of 31.2 years). The average daily intakes of DHA, EPA, and DHA plus EPA (combined) amongst the pregnant women were 66.4, 34.4, and 100.8 mgs while the corresponding intakes amongst the non-pregnant women were 58.3, 30.2, and 88.5 mgs, respectively. The daily intakes of DHA/EPA varied widely between individuals. The study revealed also that lower poverty status and lower educational background increased the risk of sub-optimal intakes of the important omega-3 fatty acids. The authors expressed concern regarding the low intakes of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in both pregnant women and women of childbearing age which were generally much below recommended intakes by various international organizations. Research efforts were advocated to determine the best interventions to overcome the ‘nutrient gap’ for specific sectors such as the low-income populations and the accompanying adverse maternal-child outcomes.

Dr. Holub's Comments:

Educational strategies to encourage the intake of safe, affordable, and rich sources of DHA/EPA from fish/seafood are needed to overcome the ‘omega-3 gap’ between current and target intakes of DHA/EPA based on the present study. As for folic acid supplementation which is routinely recommended during pregnancy for those at risk of not consuming sufficient vegetable sources rich in folate, supplementation with DHA/EPA is an additional approach. It is noted that only 5.7 % of all women and 9.0 % of pregnant women as studied herein took omega-3 supplements. The estimated average intakes of DHA and DHA/EPA (combined) of 66 and 101 mgs/day, respectively, in pregnant women as determined in this study via ‘indirect’ estimates are fairly close to the corresponding figures of 82 and 117 mgs, respectively, reported from our laboratory (J. Nutr.,135: 206-211 (2005)) for pregnant Canadian mothers based on quantitative ‘direct’ measurements. It is apparent that the vast majority of pregnant North American women fall well short of the target intake of 300 mgs DHA/day as recommended by the ISSFAL working group (J. Am. College Nutr., 18: 487-489 (1999)).

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