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DHA for pregnancy: benefits of nurturing fetal health

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The journey of life begins long before the first breath, as the miraculous process of fetal development lays the foundation for human existence. In this intricate dance of nature, every nutrient plays a role, and DHA or Docosahexaenoic acid, a key compound in omega 3 fats, takes centre stage. DHA's impact on fetal development is a topic of growing importance, with a wealth of evidence highlighting its role in shaping a healthy beginning. This article delves into the benefits of omega 3 in pregnancy, the compelling evidence that underscores the significance of DHA for pregnancy and fetal development, exploring its impact on brain growth, vision development and overall well-being.

DHA supplement: pregnancy outcomes get better with omega 3

Let’s start with answering the burning question: is omega 3 good for pregnancy? In short, yes. Optimal pregnancy outcomes are a shared aspiration, and DHA's influence on these outcomes is an area of active research. The results of a literature review led by Maria Makrides who is an international research leader in maternal-infant nutrition, suggest that DHA supplementation during pregnancy is associated with a reduced risk of preterm birth[1]. This promising connection underscores the potential of DHA to contribute to healthy pregnancies and positive birth outcomes. To support this, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has established a health claim that "DHA maternal intake contributes to the normal brain development of the foetus"[2].


Fostering brain growth and neurological development

DHA is an essential nutrient for brain development, particularly during the third trimester of pregnancy[3]. DHA is a major component of the brain and is important for the growth and development of brain cells[4]. Studies have shown that maternal DHA intake during pregnancy is positively associated with cognitive development in infants[3]. A journal article by a professor at the University of British Columbia Department of Pediatrics, Dr Sheila Innis emphasises DHA is a key structural component of the brain that plays a critical role in how neurons, the brain’s messengers, communicate between themselves[5].

Benefits of omega 3 in pregnancy: vision development and eye health

Alongside boosting brain development, DHA is also important for eye development, particularly for the development of the retina, an eye layer that sends signals to the brain which helps you perceive a visual picture. A study led by Dr Christian Drevon, a Norwegian researcher with extensive experience as a leading researcher in nutrition, pharmacology and epidemiology,  demonstrated that maternal DHA intake positively influenced the visual acuity of infants[6]. DHA, a prominent component of retinal cells, supports vision development and eye health, setting the stage for a lifetime of clear and vibrant sight. Therefore, EFSA approved the claim that “Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) maternal intake contributes to the normal development of the eye of the foetus and breastfed infants”[7].


Setting the stage for lifelong health

The impact of DHA during fetal development extends beyond pregnancy, shaping the trajectory of a child's life, especially in the first two years after birth[3]. A study on 29 pregnant women and their infants found that maternal DHA intake was associated with better problem-solving outcomes in children at 9 months[8]. This suggests that the benefits of DHA during fetal development lay the foundation for lifelong cognitive health and well-being.


Make sure you get enough of the healthy pregnancy booster

Maternal DHA intake directly impacts fetal brain development, underscoring the importance of providing a DHA-rich environment for the growing fetus. So, how much DHA during pregnancy is recommended? The recommended daily dose for an adult is 500mg daily[9] while pregnant women should ingest another 100-200mg per day[10]. Cold-water fish like salmon are rich in DHA. In 100 grams of cooked wild Atlantic salmon, you can find 1.4 grams of DHA[11]. Make sure to include it in your diet or opt for a high-quality supplement. brain feed has developed a Double concentrated 500mg DHA capsule . 


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By embracing a diet rich in DHA or considering high-quality supplementation, expecting mothers can take proactive steps toward nurturing their child's well-being.

 

References

[1] Middleton, P., Gomersall, J. C., Gould, J. F., Shepherd, E., Olsen, S. F., & Makrides, M. (2018). Omega‐3 fatty acid addition during pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 11.

[2] EFSA (2009). Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies on a request from Merck Selbstmedikation GmbH on DHA and support of the cognitive development of the unborn child and breastfed infant. The EFSA Journal, 1007, 1–14.

[3] Basak, S., Mallick, R., & Duttaroy, A. K. (2020). Maternal Docosahexaenoic Acid Status during Pregnancy and Its Impact on Infant Neurodevelopment. Nutrients, 12(12), 3615. 

[4] Horrocks, L. A., & Yeo, Y. K. (1999). Health benefits of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Pharmacological Research, 40(3), 211–225. 

[5] Innis, S. M. (2007). Dietary (n-3) Fatty Acids and Brain Development. The Journal of Nutrition, 137(4), 855–859.

[6] Helland, I. B., Smith, L., Blomén, B., Saarem, K., Saugstad, O. D., & Drevon, C. A. (2008). Effect of Supplementing Pregnant and Lactating Mothers With n-3 Very-Long-Chain Fatty Acids on Children’s IQ and Body Mass Index at 7 Years of Age. Pediatrics, 122(2), e472–e479. 

[7] EFSA (2009). Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies on a request from Merck Selbstmedikation GmbH on DHA and support of the visual development of the unborn child and breastfed infant. The EFSA Journal, 1006, 1–12.

[8] Judge, M. P., Harel, O., & Lammi-Keefe, C. J. (2007). Maternal consumption of a docosahexaenoic acid-containing functional food during pregnancy: Benefit for infant performance on problem-solving but not on recognition memory tasks at age 9 mo. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85(6), 1572–1577.

[9] Rafati, P., Hameed, M., Huang, X., & Isyaku, K. L. (2020). Review: The effect of DHA supplementation on the human health [Final Report]. University of Salford Manchester.

[10] Agostoni, C., Bresson, J. L., Fairweather Tait, S., Flynn, A., Golly, I., Korhonen, H., ... & Moseley, B. (2012). Scientific opinion on the tolerable upper intake level of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA): EFSA panel on dietetic products, nutrition, and allergies (NDA).

[11] 200 Foods Highest in Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) (n.d.). My Food Data. https://tools.myfooddata.com/nutrient-ranking-tool/DHA/All/Highest/100g/Common/No

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