A new review confirms that adequate intakes of omega-3 fatty acids in pregnancy, lactation and infancy promote the health of mother and child.
The systematic review analyzed the results of the most recent studies on the health benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) at sufficient intakes (1). The results showed that an increased supply of omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids during pregnancy reduces the risk of preterm births before 34 weeks of gestation. Pregnant women should consume at least 300 mg DHA daily. Intakes of 600-800 mg DHA daily may provide greater protection against early preterm birth. Breast-feeding women should consume at least 200 mg DHA daily to achieve a human milk DHA content of about 0.3% fatty acids. Infant formula for term infants should contain 100 mg DHA and 140 mg arachidonic acid (ARA) daily.
With regard to recent advances in omega-3 fatty acid research, scientists reported that the benefits of an omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for cardiovascular health is greatest in those with low blood omega-3 fatty acid concentrations (2). The incorporation of omega-3 fatty acids into red blood cells reflects the intake, and the amount in red blood cell membranes is a quick, cost-effective clinical marker. Future clinical trials should measure the participants’ DHA supply status in red blood cells at the beginning of the study and studies should have a duration of at least 16 weeks. Because of limited capacity of the body to elongate and desaturate shorter omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, humans should consume EPA and DHA. Seafood is seen as the major dietary contributor of LCPUFA omega-3 oils together with algal forms as efficacious, vegetarian alternatives. According to a new study omega-3 fatty acid products should be chosen on their EPA and DHA content because the role played by bioavailability seems to be overrated (3).