DHA omega-3 during pregnancy may benefit mother as well as child: RCT

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© globalmoments / Getty Images
© globalmoments / Getty Images

Related tags omega-3 Dha Omega-3 fatty acids Pregnancy Heart health cardiovascular health Preterm birth

The benefits of DHA for the developing fetus are well-established, but a new study indicates that supplementation during pregnancy may also benefit the heart health of the mother.

Data from a large cohort of pregnant women indicated that 800 mg per day of DHA improved heart rate and heart rate variability in the mothers, compared to a lower 200 mg per day dose of the omega-3.

“These novel findings suggest a potential benefit of DHA for pregnant women, which could be especially relevant for those with risk factors that are associated with increased sympathetic activity, e.g., maternal obesity, gestational diabetes, and preeclampsia,” ​wrote scientists from the University of Kansas Medical Center in The Journal of Nutrition.

An important finding

Commenting independently on the study’s findings, Harry Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), told us: “That DHA supplementation decreases heart rate and increases heart rate variability in pregnant women is an important finding and provides yet one more reason for pregnant women to take a high-quality omega-3 supplement with mostly DHA.

“As a reminder, where the strength of the evidence is strongest for omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy is for reducing the risk of preterm birth.”

Indeed, data from the Kansas University DHA Outcomes Study (KUDOS)​ found that universal supplementation with DHA (600 mg per day) during the last two trimesters of pregnancy led to significant reductions in early preterm birth.

An economic analysis by the KUDOS team revealed that this would result in cost savings of $1,678 per infant. Taking out the $166.48 cost of the DHA supplements for 26 weeks and a $26 increase in maternal care costs, the net saving became $1,484.

For the nearly 4 million live births in the US every year this cost saving would become almost $6 million, reported the researchers in Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids​ (Vol. 111, pp. 8–10).

GOED’s Dr Rice noted that the evidence is so strong for reducing the risk of preterm birth that in 2021 the Australian Pregnancy Care Guidelines were updated to “Advise pregnant women that supplementation with omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (800 mg DHA and 100 mg EPA per day) may reduce their risk of preterm birth, if they are low in omega-3.”

On the topic of heart rate variability, Dr Rice added that while it may seem like an increased heart rate variability would be bad, the opposite is true. “If your heart rate is highly variable, this is thought to be evidence that your body can adapt to many kinds of changes, while a low heart rate variability demonstrates your body is less resilient and struggles to adapt to changing situations,”​ he said.

Study details

The new study was a secondary analysis of data from the Prenatal Autonomic Neurodevelopmental Assessment (PANDA), a double-blind randomized controlled clinical trial with 300 pregnant women enrolled between 12 and 20 weeks of gestation. The women were randomized to receive either 200 or 800 mg DHA (Life’s DHA, DSM Nutritional Products LLC,) until delivery of their baby.

Data from 214 women showed that those who received the 800 mg per day dose had lower heart rates HR, lower sympathetic index, higher vagally-mediated heart rate variability indices, and greater heart rate variability complexity when compared to the women in the lower dose group.

These relationships remained statistically significant even after the researchers took into account other key variables, such as time, maternal weight, and dietary DHA intake.

“DHA is known to influence HR and HRV in the fetus, infants, children, and non-pregnant adults. To our knowledge, this is the first report of a similar effect in pregnant women,” ​wrote the Kansas-based scientists.

Source:The Journal of Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, nxac178, doi: 10.1093/jn/nxac178
“DHA Supplementation during Pregnancy Enhances Maternal Vagally-Mediated Cardiac Autonomic Control in Humans”
Authors: D.N. Christifano, et al



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