Fish oil supplements during pregnancy appear safe

It is safe for women to take fish oil supplements during pregnancy; they do not harm the fetus and may have beneficial effects on the child, according to a report in the Archives of Disease in Childhood-Fetal and Neonatal Edition.

The few previously published studies on the effects of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC PUFAs) in full-term pregnancies have shown associations between fish oil supplements during pregnancy and improved attention and mental processing in the young children, the authors explain.

Dr. Susan L. Prescott from the University of Western Australia and associates assessed the effects of prenatal omega-3 LC PUFA on cognitive development in 72 children whose mothers received either high-dose fish oil or olive oil (the comparison or “control” group) during pregnancy.

The researchers detected significant increases in omega-3 LC PUFAs in the umbilical cord blood of infants in the fish oil group compared with those in the control group, the authors report, whereas omega-6 fatty acid content in the fish oil group was significantly decreased.

Eye and hand coordination scores were significantly higher among children in the fish oil group than among the controls, the investigators say, and correlated positively with omega-3 LC PUFA content of red blood cells in the cord blood. They were also inversely correlated with omega-6 LC PUFA.

Growth measurements of the children at 2.5 years old, as well as other subscales of development, did not differ between the fish oil and control groups, the report indicates. Moreover, the two groups had similar scores on language and behavior scales.

“These preliminary data indicate that supplementation with a relatively high-dose fish oil during the last 20 weeks of pregnancy is not only safe but also seems to have potential beneficial effects that need to be explored further,” the authors conclude.

However, an area that still requires further investigation is the possibility that relatively selective supplementation with n-3 PUFA may have detrimental effects on the fetus and infant “by displacing other essential fatty acids,” they add.

SOURCE: Archives of Disease in Childhood-Fetal and Neonatal Edition, January 2008.

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