Opinions vary about the value of omega-3 fish oil for pregnant women. Yet, a growing amount of research provides evidence that the benefits are all positive. Here you will learn what the researchers are reporting, but first a little background.
Omega-3s are a specific group of fats that are “essential” to the human diet, meaning that they are necessary for bodily functions, but the body cannot produce them. So, they must be present in the foods that we eat.
There is no way to determine how many people are suffering from omega-3 deficiencies. There is reason to believe that the number is very large, indeed. It’s just that the deficiencies do not cause acute or immediate symptoms. They cause, or at least contribute to, diseases associated with aging, including heart disease, some types of cancer and arthritis.
When the deficiency is present during pregnancy, infancy or childhood, there are increased risks of learning disabilities, visual impairment, asthma and allergies. The nutrients are essential for normal brain development and function.
So, the value of omega-3 fish oil for pregnant women is to support the developing baby and to reduce his or her risk of chronic conditions like asthma. But, there are other values.
Research indicates that a high omega-3 intake reduces the risk of miscarriage and premature delivery. There may be a reduced risk of post-partum depression, too.
Post-partum depression is typically blamed on sudden hormonal changes, but those are natural changes that should not place undue stress on the body. Nutritional deficits are likely to occur during the last trimester and following delivery as essential nutrients have been directed to the baby’s needs. Research has shown that a woman’s DHA blood levels may be particularly low after delivery.
The nutritional value of fish oil for pregnant women or for anyone has to do with two unique omega-3s called Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA and Eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA. DHA and EPA are present in other foodstuff. They are only found in some species of fish.
At one time, wild game and even farm animals may have contained DHA and EPA, but today, the only omega-3 that those foods provide is alpha-linolenic acid or ALA. The body can, if it must, convert some ALA to EPA and then to DHA, which is why severe deficiency symptoms are not seen in people that do not eat fish or take a supplement.
It’s just that the amount of ALA that is converted to DHA is very low, less than 4%. An alternative to fish oil for pregnant women that are vegan is marine algae. But, be sure to check the label for DHA and EPA content, no matter what kind of supplement you are about to buy.
Despite all of the research, some doctors may still have reservations about suggesting fish oil for pregnant women, but any doctor would agree that the supplement is a good idea for those that are planning to become pregnant.
After all, the brain and central nervous system start to develop before a woman even knows she is pregnant. In short, good nutrition is always important.