October 6, 2017
Omega-3 fatty acids have positive effects on many aspects of pregnancy. An increased intake of EPA and DHA during pregnancy has been shown to prevent pre-term labour and delivery, lower the risk of preeclampsia and may increase the birth weight. EPA has also been postulated in research to bring positive effects to the mood of the mother and subsequent development of the child and the lack of it may increase the mother’s risk for postnatal depression.
Omega-3 for the growing child
DHA is taken up in exponential rates into the brain and retina of the developing fetus. Research has shown that an increased intake of EPA and DHA to the diet of pregnant women has a positive effect on visual and cognitive development of the baby. Studies have also shown that higher consumption of omega-3s may reduce the risk of asthma and allergies in infants.
The need to increase intake
During pregnancy, the fetus draws rapidly from the mum’s omega-3 stores for its nervous system development. Pregnant women who do not increase their intake in omega-3 become easily depleted of them. After birthing, the mother’s omega-3 stores are then used to make breast milk, depleting the mum’s reserves further. Without appropriate nourishment, the mum’s omega-3 stores become increasingly depleted with each subsequent pregnancy. The result in the lack in omega-3, especially EPA, due to increased demand may explain why postpartum mood disorders may become worse and begin earlier with subsequent pregnancies.
Is fish the best source for Omega-3 fatty acids?
All fish contain DHA as well as EPA. Generally, most fish contain DHA and EPA in ratios of approximately 2:1 or somewhat higher.
However, our oceans now are not as clean as 30 years ago. Industrialization have left our oceans and atmosphere polluted and ocean life contaminated with industrial chemicals and toxic wastes. Significant levels of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxin have been found concentrated in oily ocean fishes, especially the bigger fishes who have longer life spans in these waters. These pollutants are toxic to the human nerve tissues, especially to the growing fetus whose nerves are maturing. In the UK and US, authorities have advocated to restrict pregnant women to two fish meals a week (about 340gm a week) and advised to stay away from eating large oily fish, such as shark, swordfish, marlin and king mackerel.
Quality fish oil is safe to take during pregnancy
The good news is that these toxins which contaminates fish can now be virtually eliminated during the manufacturing and processing of fish oil. This can be achieved with the use of high-quality raw materials, advanced refining processes and a responsible manufacturer who takes necessary steps to produce a higher quality and safer fish oil.
Some brands of fish oil are of higher quality than others. A responsible fish oil manufacturer should be able to provide documentation of third-party lab results that show the purity levels of their fish oil, down to the particles per trillion level.
But not cod-liver oil!
Pregnant women are advised not to consume fish liver oil, such as cod liver oil. Fish liver is the main organ where mercury is detoxified and therefore has the highest concentration of the pollutant. Besides, excessive vitamin A usage in pregnancy is associated with fetal malformation. Since vitamin A is largely stored in the liver, the liver has the highest level of vitamin A in the body, making fish liver oil a less than desirable source of supplementation.
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