Omega-3 fatty acids are the good fats that the body needs to maintain overall health. In order for the organism to function properly, you must add omega-3 to your diet. Fish in particular is rich in these healthy fats.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids During Pregnancy Have Benefits for Mother and Child
According to the recommendations of the German Society for Nutrition, adults should consume around 220 g of fish and seafood per week. Recommended are salmon, herring, oysters, sardines, mackerel and anchovies. Since the body does not build omega-3 itself and it is sometimes not possible to get the right amount from food, they can also be obtained from supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids have a number of beneficial health effects. In particular, expectant mothers and their offspring benefit from these fats in different ways.
Lower the Risk of Postpartal Depression
Fish has long been considered brain food in countless cultures. Among other benefits, it supports the development and maintenance of the brain and nerves. Researchers have been investigating whether increased omega-3 fatty acid intake during pregnancy reduces the risk of postpartal depression, a condition that leads to a variety of problems including disruption in mother-child bonding and subsequent impairments in child development. It is estimated that about 25% of new mothers are affected by this kind of depression.
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, dietary intervention study, 52 expectant mothers who were 24 to 40 weeks pregnant were given either a placebo (corn oil) or a fish oil capsule containing 300 milligrams of DHA 5 days per week. This is the amount a woman would consume if she ate about half a serving of salmon. Although the study did not include enough women to investigate whether consumption of fish oil resulted in a lower incidence of diagnosable postpartal depression, women in the treatment group had significantly lower total Postpartum Depression Screening Scale scores (a screening scale for postnatal depression) with significantly fewer symptoms typical of postpartal depression. For example, women in the fish oil group were less likely to report symptoms related to anxiety and self-loss compared to those in the control group.
The researchers concluded that consuming DHA during pregnancy – in amounts that can reasonably be achieved through food – has the potential to reduce symptoms of postnpartal depression. They recommend that women should eat at least one serving of fish high in omega-3 two to three days a week. While supplements are a good choice, real fish is highly recommended as it is high in protein and minerals.
Lower the Risk of Premature Birth
Premature birth is the leading cause of death in children under the age of 5 worldwide. Babies who are born prematurely are at greater risk of a number of long-term conditions, including visual impairment, developmental delays and learning disabilities.
Cochrane researchers looked at long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and their role in reducing the risk of premature birth. Special attention was paid to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which are found in fatty fish and fish oil supplements. A review of 70 randomized studies found that women who increased their omega-3 intake reduced the risk of having a premature birth (less than 37 weeks) by 11 percent and a 42% reduction in the risk of having a premature baby (less than 34 weeks), and the risk of giving birth to a small baby (under 2500 g) was reduced by 10 percent.
This research suggests that omega 3 supplementation can be an effective strategy for preventing premature birth, but only if the supplement provides the optimal dosage. Researchers believe a daily supplementation of between 500 and 1000 milligrams (mg) of long-chain omega-3 fats (with at least 500 mg of DHA) is optimal from about 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Reduced Risk for the Offspring to Develop Obesity Later in Life
Several studies have shown that changes in the dietary omega-6/omega-3 ratio can alter the balance of microbial species in the gut, but there is limited data on how or if maternal omega-6/omega-3 ratio affects the microbiota of their offspring, and the associated risk of obesity. In the open-access journal Microbiome, a team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and University College Cork, Ireland, reports that an increase in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in female mice during pregnancy or lactation, leads to reduced weight gain and metabolic disorders in young mice fed with a high-fat diet.
Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential for good health, but maintaining a good balance between the two is important. The typical western diet with lots of meat and other animal products can lead to excessive consumption of omega-6, which can cause different diseases. It is well known that the microbial population – or microbiota – of the infant’s gut is largely influenced by that of the mother, but can also be influenced after birth by diet and other environmental factors.
By studying mice, the researchers found that omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy, and particularly while breastfeeding, can help to reduce the future risk of obesity and related diseases in children. The experts call for in-depth exploration of interventions that target the gut microbiota, including those that can improve the omega-6/omega-3 ratio.
Reduced Risk, that the Child Will Develop Asthma
Taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements during pregnancy can also reduce the risk of childhood asthma by almost a third, according to research from the Copenhagen Prospective Studies on Asthma in Childhood (COPSAC) and the University of Waterloo. Asthma is a chronic disease that negatively affects lung function. It is characterized by narrowing of the airways in the lungs as a result of inflammation, making it difficult to breathe. Currently, about one in five pre-school children has asthma or a related condition.
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that women prescribed 2.4 grams of long-chain omega-3 supplements during the third trimester of pregnancy reduced their children’s risk of asthma by 31 percent. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are found in cold-water fish and are key to regulating the human immune response.
The study used rapid analysis techniques developed and conducted at the University of Waterloo to measure blood levels of EPA and DHA in pregnant women. The tests also found that women with low EPA and DHA blood levels at the start of the study benefited the most from the supplements. In these women, the relative risk of asthma in their children was reduced by 54 percent. Therfore, adequate omega-3 intake during pregnancy could be an effective strategy to protect children from this serious respiratory disease later in life.