Loading up on fish oil supps while pregnant may not curb postpartum depression or boost brain health in offspring as widely believed, suggested research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last week.
Although several previous studies show that omega-3 fatty acids deliver major health benefits to both mom and baby, Australian researchers surveyed more than 2,000 women to determine that supplementing with 800 mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) daily during the last half of pregnancy did not lessen depressive symptoms post-birth or lead to improved cognition and language development in their young children.
According to the study authors, past pro-DHA conclusions may have been reached based on “methodological limitations” of particular studies and more research is needed to pinpoint the exact benefits—and any potential costs—of DHA supplementation while pregnant.
But the Council for Responsible Nutrition pointed out key limitations of this study, as well, in a press release issued last week. The CRN’s Duffy MacKay, ND, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, stated in the release: “Unfortunately in this trial, we have no idea of the DHA status of the mothers at the beginning of pregnancy or when they were evaluated for depression. Further we have no idea of the DHA status of the infants at 18 months when they were evaluated for neurocognitive outcomes. Without measurements of DHA status, it is difficult to draw conclusions from the study and certainly should not provide definitive advice to consumers.”
MacKay discussed other variables that also may have affected results, such as other dietary sources of DHA that weren’t measured and individuals’ differing abilities to synthesize DHA.
The CRN maintains that, regardless of whether DHA abates postpartum depression or improves infants’ cognitive development, regular fish oil supplements promote healthy pregnancies, so pregnant or lactating women should get adequate DHA, either by eating two servings of fatty fish per week or taking daily fish oil supplements containing 200 to 300 mg of DHA.