Fish Oil and Pregnancy, Infants' Health

Fish and Pregnancy

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS. Fish is an important source of nutrients required for infant brain development with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) being especially beneficial. Women are therefore encouraged to increase their fish consumption during pregnancy. With the ever-increasing pollution of fish habitats, including the oceans, the question arises, "Are the benefits of fish consumption outweighed by the risk of mercury contamination?" Researchers at the Harvard Medical School report the results of a study designed to examine the benefits and risks of fish and pregnancy.

Their study involved 135 women and their infants. The women completed semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaires at 26-28 weeks of gestation. The questionnaire was specifically designed to determine the consumption of various types of fish and shellfish. A hair sample was also obtained from the women immediately after delivery. At about 6 months of age the infants underwent a test (VRM) to determine their visual recognition memory, a recognized indicator of infant cognition and brain development. Together, these factors were examined to study the effects of fish and pregnancy.

Read more: Benefits/risks of maternal seafood consumption

DHA is an Omega-3 Fatty Acid

MAASTRICHT, THE NETHERLANDS. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid and main component of fish oil, is an extremely important nutrient in the development of the brain of the fetus and infant. It is therefore not surprising that nature has ordained that blood plasma and red blood cell (erythrocyte) levels of DHA increase during pregnancy, possibly due to an enhanced conversion of docosapentaenoic acid to DHA. What is not known is how long it takes for omega-3 fatty acid DHA concentrations to return to pre-pregnancy levels, and whether the change is different in breastfeeding women than in those who feed their infants formula. Researchers at Maastricht University provide an answer to these questions.

Read more: DHA declines during breast-feeding

Fish Oil Contains DHA

VANCOUVER, CANADA. There is substantial evidence that an adequate maternal intake of the long-chain, unsaturated fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is essential to ensure normal development of an infant's central nervous system. DHA along with EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are the main components of fish oils. Recent studies have shown that an adequate maternal intake of seafood, especially oily fish, or fish oil supplements improves verbal communication skills at 6 and 18 months of age, reduces the risk of pre-term birth (low birth weight), improves an infant's problem-solving capacity and eye and hand coordination, and results in a higher intelligence quotient (IQ) in children at 4 years of age.

Read more: DHA improves visual acuity in term infants