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Of Omega-3 and Pregnancy

By: Gwen Y. Reyes-Amurao, M.D.Of Omega-3 and Pregnancy

For the past few years, fish oils have been gaining popularity because of their proven health benefits backed up by scientific clinical evidence. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, among all the fish oils, omega-3 ranks as one of the most important essential nutrients to date.

Omega-3 101

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that fall under a more general group of fatty acids known as polyunsaturated fats or PUFA. These often come in different forms, the simplest of which is the alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) and are the building blocks of other omega-3’s. But because this cannot be produced by our bodies, diet and supplementation are advised in order for the body to meet the desired dietary requirement. When it comes to health benefits though, Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) seem to have more when compared to ALA.

ALA is specifically used as a source of energy in the different cells of the body. It also plays a critical role in one’s metabolism. EPA, on the other hand, possesses anti-inflammatory properties that help address inflammatory conditions of the body, while DHA is considered to be essential for proper brain development and function.

Generally speaking, all omega-3 plays a major role in reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke that can lead to death. In fact, research shows that consuming fish that is rich in omega-3 on a weekly basis can significantly lower the risk of mortality by 50 percent, after a cardiac episode. More so, regular intake of omega-3 is also associated with lower blood cholesterol levels and has been found to help prevent arrhythmia, blood clots, fibrosis, and inflammation of blood vessels, which are overall predictors of heart health.

A diet rich in omega-3 has also been associated with enhanced learning, vocabulary, and reading skills, as well as improvement in symptoms associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. Physiologically speaking, omega-3 helps increase neuronal growth and increases effective blood circulation for optimum neurologic function, which is why low levels of DHA have been associated with certain neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis.

Furthermore, dietary fish oil intake has also been associated with lower incidence of certain types of cancer and has been shown to reduce cancer cell growth. To summarize, omega 3 fatty acids are associated with the following health benefits:

  • Relieves symptoms of depression, anxiety, and ADHD
  • Improves eye health and aids in visual development
  • Promotes brain development
  • Decreases risk for heart disease
  • Relieves symptoms associated with metabolic syndromes, autoimmune diseases, and liver disease
  • Fights off inflammation such as asthma and inflammatory bowel disease
  • Improves mental health and prevents mental decline
  • Maintains good cholesterol levels and reduces bad cholesterol levels in the blood
  • Improves skin elasticity and overall appearance
  • Helps fight off cancer

Omega-3 and Pregnancy

With omega 3 fatty acids aiding in proper brain development, studies show that it is also essential for brain and visual development of babies while they are still in their mother’s womb. According to Dr. Arbie Gusilatar, OB-Gynecologist from Perpetual Help Medical Center in Las Pinas, she highly recommends fish oil supplementation to her pregnant patients for fetal neurodevelopment. This is because fish oil is a rich source of polyunsaturated fatty acids such as DHA, which is a major structural fat in the human brain and eyes, particularly important for the development of the brain and retina during the third trimester up to 18 months of life. “On the other hand, EPA, omega-6 fatty acid, and arachidonic acid (AA) are essential structural components of every cell found in the body,” adds Dr. Gusilatar.

When properly supplemented with omega-3 during pregnancy, less incidence of maternal complications such as pre-term labor and delivery, pre-eclampsia and low neonatal birth weight have been reported. Because it has also been associated with improvement of hormone levels that help regulate mood, a deficiency in one’s diet during pregnancy increases chances of postpartum depression later on.

In a study conducted by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, a supplementation of Omega-3 in the form of DHA in the last half of gestation resulted in overall greater gestation duration and infant size, meaning babies are most likely to be carried to term with a heavier birth weight appropriate for their length. In a separate study conducted by the University of Adelaide in Australia, omega-3 supplementation in pregnancy showed longer pregnancies, preventing very early preterm deliveries or deliveries before 34 weeks of gestation. In addition to this, preterm infants born to mothers on omega-3 supplementation had a shorter hospital stay compared to those who were not.

Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acid

So where can we get our daily dose of omega-3? Cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, and anchovies are the most ideal sources of this fatty acid. But, to avoid the possible effect of mercury on both the mother and the fetus, purified oil supplements is more advisable.  

There are quite a number of supplements available in the market, so here are some practical tips to help you choose which supplement would be best for you.

  • Read the label

The label will indicate how much omega-3, DHA, or EPA is found in each supplement and can even indicate the amount of mercury found in it. In some cases, a specific standardizing company will have its seal printed on it so consumers can immediately determine if it’s of high or poor quality.

  • Smell it

Research shows that if the fish oil is pure, the chances of it having a very “fishy” smell are very small. So if a supplement smells rancid, shift to a different brand or manufacturer.

  • Taste it

Just like with smell, high-quality fish oil supplements should not taste fishy. In some cases, manufacturers will use strong flavors like mint or orange to cover up the taste, but it still ends up tasting fishy anyway. Some have even reported tasting that fishy flavor, even hours after taking it and especially when they burp. This means that the supplement may be of poor quality.

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