U. KANSAS (US) — Infants of mothers who took the omega-3 fatty acid DHA during pregnancy weighed more at birth and were less likely to be born before 34 weeks gestation, a new study finds.
The results—which greatly strengthen the case for using the dietary supplement during pregnancy—are from the first five years of a 10-year, double-blind randomized controlled trial published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
A follow-up of this group is ongoing to determine 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,” says Susan Carlson, professor of dietetics and nutrition at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
“We believe that supplementing US 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 cell membranes with the highest levels in brain cells, but levels can be increased by diet or supplements. An infant obtains DHA from his or her mother in utero and postnatally from human milk, but the amount received depends upon the mother’s DHA status.
“US women typically consume less DHA than women in most of the developed world,” Carlson says.
During the first five years of the study, children received multiple developmental assessments at regular intervals throughout infancy and at 18 months of age.
In the next phase of the study, the children will receive twice-yearly assessments until they are 6 years old. The researchers will measure developmental milestones that occur in later childhood and are linked to lifelong health and welfare.
Previous research has established the effects of postnatal feeding of DHA on infant cognitive and intellectual development, but DHA is accumulated most rapidly in the fetal brain during pregnancy, says John Colombo, professor of psychology.
“That’s why we are so interested in the effects of DHA taken prenatally, because we will really be able to see how this nutrient affects development over the long term.”
The study is funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Source: University of Kansas