Doctors may soon be recommending women add fish oil to their prenatal vitamins, new research suggests.
University of Kansas scientists have found that the infants of mothers who were given 600 milligrams of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA — found in fish and fish oil — during pregnancy weighed more at birth and were less likely to be born preterm than those of expectant moms who didn’t take the supplement.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, are based on the first five years of a 10-year clinical trial of the health benefits of DHA. The second half of the study will assess whether prenatal DHA nutritional supplementation benefits children's intelligence and school readiness.
"A reduction in early preterm and very low birth weight delivery could have clear clinical and public health significance," said Susan Carlson, a professor of dietetics and nutrition at the KU Medical Center, who directed the study with John Colombo, KU professor of psychology and director of the Life Span Institute.
"We believe that supplementing U.S. women with DHA could safely increase mean birth weight and gestational age to numbers that are closer to other developed countries such as Norway and Australia."
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) occurs naturally in human cells, with the highest levels in the brain. Infants obtain DHA from his or her mother in utero and from human milk, but the level depends upon the mother's DHA status.
"U.S. women typically consume less DHA than women in most of the developed world," said Carlson.
During the first phase of the study, children received several developmental assessments during infancy and at 18 months of age. In the next phase of the study, the children will receive twice-yearly assessments of developmental milestones that occur in later childhood and are linked to lifelong health and welfare.
The study is funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
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