DHA During Pregnancy – Is it Really Necessary?

The needs for DHA during pregnancy have never been officially established. But, since a pregnant woman’s needs for other nutrients are higher, it is safe to assume that her need for Docosahexaenoic acid is higher, too.

A research group headed by Dr James A Greenberg of the Harvard Medical School conducted a study and published a review in the fall of 2008 concerning a woman’s needs for omega-3s while pregnant. They suggest 1.4 grams of the omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid, 300mg of Docosahexaenoic acid and 350mg of Eicosapentaenoic acid per day.

In order to meet those recommendations, the group suggests a tablespoon of canola oil, per day, which provides the 1.4 grams of ALA. Other vegetable oils are too high in omega-6 fatty acids, which compete with the omega-3s for conversion. While omega-6s are essential for human health, the typical Western diet provides more than enough in the form of processed and prepared foods.

Two servings of seafood per week are recommended for the omega-3s that they contain. The fish should be selected from species that are low in mercury, PCBs and dioxins. Two servings will provide an average of 50-100mg of DHA during pregnancy, less than half of what the researchers recommend. Because of that, researchers recommend a daily fish oil or algae supplement that provides a minimum of 225mg.

It is important to choose a brand that is tested for mercury and other contaminants. The better manufacturers test each batch. The oils should either be distilled or certified free of mercury and PCBs.

Some brands contain only 120mg of DHA per capsule. So, it is necessary to read the label carefully. While the average capsule contains 1000mg of fat, only some of the fat is omega-3 fat.

It is best to choose a brand that is high in omega-3s, low in omega-6s. That percentage will depend on the species from which the oils are derived.

The benefits of DHA during pregnancy are to the mother and the child. The benefits have been noted immediately after delivery and up until the age of two years, in children that are breast-fed. The study groups used to arrive at that conclusion consisted of mothers that continued to strive for high omega-3 intake while breast-feeding.

In infants, whose mothers had adequate omega-3 intake, visual acuity developed faster. They scored higher on cognitive assessments and were less likely to have allergies. A decreased risk of asthma and eczema was noted, as well.

Women that get enough DHA during pregnancy may have a reduced risk of post-partum depression. Although the condition has been attributed to changing hormonal levels, it could also be due to depleted levels of DHA, which occurs after delivery. Low blood levels have been associated with suicidal behavior, depressive disorders, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Omega-3 supplementation has proven beneficial for children and adults with attention deficit disorders. Some researchers believe that adequate intake of DHA during pregnancy may prevent ADHD. So, there are many good reasons to take a supplement. Just be sure to choose a good brand.