Omega-3 Fatty Acids & Fetal-Pregnancy Health
Pregnancy & Breastfeeding >> Omega-3 Fatty Acids & Fetal-Pregnancy Health
Educating TTC Couples to the Importance Omega-3s
Doctors indicate that Omega-3
fatty acids are a vital nutritional contributor to enhanced pregnancy health.
But unlike folic acid, which is today well-known for its pregnancy and preconception
benefits in preventing common birth defects, the profound value of Omega-3 fatty
acids is just now becoming clear in nutritional research - and to the public.
Hence, very few TTC or pregnant women know much about Omega-3s - or
get the Omega-3s they need as part of their pregnancy and nursing diet-regimen.
The fact is, recent scientific
literature suggests that Omega-3 fatty acids play a key part in pregnancy health
- and in the healthy development of your baby. The benefits of Omega-3
fatty acids are clear. To summarize recent research conclusions, Omega-3s...
- Offer critical nutrients
for the neurological development of your baby.
- Promote the development
of your baby's cardiac and respiratory systems.
- Support the development
of your baby's brain and eyes (development of visual centers).
- Have been shown to increase
the learning and cognitive function of your child, with effects measurable
to age four.
- Increase the attention
span of your child (a measurable component of intelligence early in life)
- Support the pregnancy
health of the mother, possibly reducing chances of toxemia (or pre-eclampsia).
- May help prevent pre-term
labor and premature delivery.
What are Omega-3
Omega-3 fatty acids are
key to human growth and development, but are not naturally synthesized by the
body. This means that Omega-3s must be obtained from foods, particularly from
seafood sources, oils (e.g., flaxseed oil), or dietary
supplements. In technical terms, Omega-3s are "long-chain polyunsaturated
fatty acids" and are broken down into two fatty acid categories: DHA and
EPA. Research indicates that EPA is important in promoting the development of
prenatal and infant cardiac and circulatory systems. DHA, however, seems to
receive more attention and accolades from the scientific community with regard
to pregnancy health.
DHA is key to the developing
brain, accumulating in vast amounts during infant development and during the
first years of your baby's life. DHA is a central component of the nervous system
and promotes neurological development, particularly with regard to the eyes
and to fundamental cognitive function. Studies suggest that a baby born to a
mother with high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in her system will more likely
have advanced cognitive faculties and an increased attention span (a fundamental
non-verbal indicator of intelligence in very early childhood). These effects
have been measured up to age four, suggesting that there are long-term benefits
of Omega-3 fatty acid consumption during pregnancy and nursing.
DHA benefits also include
the support of retinal development and enhanced visual function. One study tested
over seventy mothers and their babies from between 4 and 8 months of age. The
study tested for visual acuity and visual-cognitive learning ability by showing
infants pictures and measuring reactions. Results indicated that babies born
to mothers with elevated DHA levels had increase visual "skills" and
Of course, health benefits
of Omega-3s are not restricted to fetal and early-childhood development. For
mothers and mothers-to-be, higher dietary intake of Omega-3 fatty acids have
been shown to decrease the risk of pregnancy complications like toxemia (or
pre-eclampsia) and reduce the odds of postpartum depression. Equally important,
higher levels of Omega-3s may also decrease the chances of premature delivery
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
& Pregnancy: Overcoming Nutritional Deficiency
Large internal stores of
Omega-3s, as well as a higher dietary intake of Omega-3s, contribute to fetal
and pregnancy health - this much is clear. Omega-3s are stored by the body and
brain of the mother, and the nutritional benefits of dietary Omega-3
fatty acids will be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy through the
placenta. During pregnancy, however, if your diet does not contain sufficient
Omega-3 fatty acids, your baby will begin to "draw" Omega-3s from
your own internal stores in the brain. This can cause a long-term Omega-3 deficit
(a deficit extending even to future pregnancies) if Omega-3s are not regularly
consumed from external food and/or supplement sources.
Unfortunately, in a "typical"
North American diet, we receive inadequate amounts of these key fatty acids.
Research indicates that this nutritional deficiency is traced to a decreased
consumption of fish, seafoods, and other sources of Omega-3 fatty acids over
the past decades. The good news, however, is that Omega-3 fatty acids can be
easily replenished through simple dietary change or supplementation. Sources
suggest that pregnant women should receive about 250 mg of DHA daily - though
very few women actually do.
Eating more seafood is one
very simple solution, with one large caveat: increased pollution, contaminants,
and mercury levels in many species of fish (particularly some types of tuna,
swordfish, and larger predatory fish). For a pregnancy diet, the FDA has even
suggested limits on how much and what kinds of fish a woman can safely consume
on a weekly basis. Mercury, in particular, is a neural toxin which can hurt
a baby's developing brain or cause birth defects. High levels of PCBs (or polychlorinated
byphenols), which may be found in farmed salmon, have also been linked to birth
defects. Raw or undercooked fish is, of course, a no-no for other reasons.
The other good
news is that, in addition to some types of safer seafoods (moderate amounts
of salmon, pacific cod, and canned tuna), there are dietary sources of Omega-3
fatty acids that do not contain pollutants or mercury. Indeed, newer dietary
supplements offer purified (contaminant free) Omega-3s - some from seafood sources
and some from flaxseed oil, etc. A supplement like Prenatal
Pure Omega-3 is specifically designed for pregnancy, and is certified mercury-free.
For nursing mothers, Prenatal Pure Omega-3 (or other pure sources of Omega-3s)
are highly advised because fatty acid nutrients pass directly from mother to
child via breast milk.
In a way, Omega-3 fatty
acids are like the new folic acid. It's common knowledge that trying-to-conceive
and pregnant women should have a diet high in green, leafy vegetables or other
sources of folic acid (including prenatal vitamins). With Omega-3s, its simply
a matter of educating couples to the importance of this key nutrients when it
comes time to having a baby. A diet high in Omega-3 fatty acids may become the
new pregnancy-health watchword very soon.
For more information regarding
Omega-3s and preconception/pregnancy, please consult with your physician. To
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