Benefits of Omega 3 during pregnancy and beyond

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Omega 3 supplements taken during pregnancy may help protect the child against future bouts of illness says a recent study from Mexico. The study has been published online in the journal “Pediatrics”.

The researchers from an Emory University found that the babies born to mothers who had been given Omega 3 in the latter half of pregnancy (from 18 to 22 weeks until childbirth) had fewer colds at one month, three months, and six months of age, and if the infants did get ill, the duration of the illness was shorter than the illnesses suffered by other babies whose mothers had received a placebo.

Altogether, over 1100 pregnant women and 900 babies were involved in the study. Some were given 400 mg of Omega 3 supplements daily whereas the remainder of the women received a placebo.

Healthier babies

The findings of the Mexico study showed that women who were given Omega 3 supplements delivered healthier babies when compared with the control group.

  • At the age of one month, the babies whose mothers had taken Omega 3 had a 25 percent reduction in cold symptoms and had fewer problems with phlegm and wheezing.
  • At 3 months of age they spent 14 percent less time being ill.
  • At 6 months of age the babies had shorter bouts of sickness and symptoms such as fever, runny nose, breathing difficulties and rashes, although they had longer bouts of vomiting.

“This is a large scale, robust study that underscores the importance of good nutrition during pregnancy” said Usha Ramakrishnan, PhD, associate professor, Hubert Department of Global Health at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health.

Previous studies by the same researchers have shown that women who had taken Omega 3 supplements during pregnancy gave birth to heavier and taller babies.

Reduced risk of postnatal depression

It’s not just the babies who benefit when the mother takes Omega 3, the women themselves do to. Over the past few years a number of research studies have shown that women who consume higher levels of Omega 3 fatty acids during pregnancy appear to have a reduced risk of post natal depression after the birth of their baby.

Anyone who has ever suffered from post natal depression will know the devastating effect it can have, not just on the women suffering, but on the rest of the family too.

Dr Joseph Hibbeln of the US National Institutes of Health analysed data from over 40 studies involving more than 14,000 women in 23 countries and found a clear correlation between fish consumption and post natal depression.

Basically he found that the higher the amount of fish consumed the lower the incidence of post partum depression.

Many women unaware

Interestingly, a survey carried out a few years ago by the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) involving 500 women revealed that over half of them (59 percent) were unaware of the importance of Omega 3 during pregnancy and in the first few years of life. However, most were aware of the importance of other nutrients such as folic acid, Calcium and vitamin D.

Although the benefits of Omega 3 are more widely portrayed now, the message may still not be getting through. If more people were aware of the need for an adequate amount of Omega 3 fatty acids in the diet, not just during pregnancy and in the first few years of life, but right throughout life, then perhaps our overall health and quality of life would improve. Most of us are familiar with the importance of vitamins and minerals for good health, not so much the benefits of Omega 3 essential fatty acids. Why?

Health benefits only recently discovered

Omega 3 fatty acids are relative newcomers to the good nutrition arena, they were originally discovered in the early part of the 20th century and were called Omega 3 because of their chemical structure as they have at least 3 double bonds with the first one appearing on the third carbon bond from the methyl end of the fatty acid chain.

The amazing health benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids were only really discovered a few decades ago in the 1980’s when Danish researchers discovered that Inuit Eskimos had lower rates of heart disease than other populations despite eating a diet very high in fat as they consumed large amounts of oily fish.

Fats have received a lot of bad press in the past but what we know now is that we need the right kinds of fats in our diet. Now we have learned that Omega 3 fatty acids, which are polyunsaturated fatty acids, are important for the development of the brain and vision, they can reduce the risk of heart disease, lower inflammation in the body, lower triglyceride levels and bad cholesterol, reduce the risk of depression and other mental illnesses as well as alleviate depression symptoms, and can even improve brain function.

3 main players

There are 3 main players in the Omega 3 chain and they are ALA (alpha linolenic acid), EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid). ALA can be found in plant and vegetable sources whereas significant amounts of EPA and DHA are only found in oily fish and some algae.

Concerns

One of the concerns about eating large amounts of fish in this day and age is that fish is contaminated with industrial pollutants, particularly mercury, however, high grade fish oil supplements have had the pollutants removed leaving only concentrated Omega 3.

If you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, or if you have an existing health problem, it’s advisable to speak to your doctor before taking Omega 3 supplements just in case there are any contraindications that might apply to you. For example, Omega 3 has a blood thinning effect so caution is advised if you are already taking blood thinning medication such as Warfarin or Aspirin.

 

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