Fish oil supplements are known to contain DHA, docosahexaenoic acid, the omega-3 fatty acid. These are marketed to pregnant women claiming that it can support brain development. However, the question is, are they beneficial?
Clinical trials that have examined the effect of DHA on the development of the brain are underpowered. It means they do not have sufficient subject matter that will help in drawing methodological limitations and reasonable conclusions.
A robust and large trial of 500 South Australian pairs of mother and child was done. In this trial, women were provided with high-dose of vegetable oil placebo and DHA through the second and third semester of their pregnancy. An assessment of child behavior, intelligence, language, and executive functions at eighteen months, four years, and seven years have shown that fish oil supplements do not have any benefit.
It took over ten trials with DHA supplement during pregnancy with more than 5000 women for evaluating initial claims that fish oil is capable of making kids smarter. However, the studies have led to an answer, and with a healthy pregnancy, when you eat a varied diet, they do not.
When did Fish Oil Gain Focus?
The link between the brain and fish oil started when it had been discovered that the brain has omega-3 fatty acid known as DHA. Fish oil is rich in DHA. It can also be found in red meat’s lean tissue and egg yolk. When you eat it, DHA will be absorbed by the bloodstream and is distributed in the body. Thus, the more DHA you consume, the higher will be the level of DHA in the blood.
It can be helpful for an unborn child that receives its nutrients like DHA from the mother’s blood. DHA gets transferred to the baby from the mother through the placenta. A significant amount of DHA is transferred to the baby’s brain and especially in the third trimester. This is the time when the mind of the baby undergoes a speedy growth. During this time, the supply of DHA is essential for the growth of the brain. Babies with premature birth tend to miss out on the DHA supply and have low levels of DHA in mind.
The whole concept is that having fish in pregnancy is going to make children much smarter. The fact had been supported by an observational study that had been conducted in 2007. It studied the seafood intake of 5000 women who are 32 weeks pregnant from the UK. Children who are about 3 ½ years are likely to develop low motor, communicational, and social skill score when mothers consumed lesser than three portions of seafood in a week. However, at eight years, there is no association between the measured IQ and the intake of seafood. However, it was concluded that women consuming less than three portions of seafood in a week might give birth to a child who has lower verbal IQ.
Several experts have interpreted that the studies have shown the advantages of having fish during the time of pregnancy for the development of the child’s brain. The manufacturers of the supplements have used the findings for marketing fish oil’s benefits. It led the general public to assume that DHA supplements for women during pregnancy are beneficial for brain development.
Nevertheless, experts were not convinced yet. Any observational studies like this don’t prove that consuming fish is going to show that it can make a child stronger. It is because of the mystifying factors which can also help with child development. For instance, in this study, women who had eaten less than three portions of seafood for a week had a low level of education, were hardly likely to breastfeed the child, and more likely to be smokers.
Just random and control trials can prove the effect and the cause as every mystifying factor has been randomized evenly between the placebo groups and the treatment. It is the first trial that had a consistent and large sample at periods of significant development with high follow-up rates.
Is There Any Supplement Supporting Brain Development During Pregnancy?
Apart from fish oil, iodine and prenatal ion were also considered to be beneficial for the development of the brain. However, it has limited effectiveness if the mother doesn’t suffer a deficiency of the nutrients. Very few studies have shown that multivitamins and zinc supplements during pregnancy are suitable for the babies’ brains.
Just as the fish oil study, the women who took part in this trial had a varied diet, and thus, there is an excellent chance that they are not deficient in these nutrients or derive any benefits from the excessive supply of it. However, vegetarians or vegans might benefit from consuming these supplements.
Other Benefits of Fish Oil
Even though DHA supplements might not make your baby smarter, there is evidence that it has other benefits.
Many trials of fish oil rich in DHA during pregnancy have shown a tad increase in the pregnancy length in women consuming the supplement. It led to a decrease in the preterm childbirth number. However, further studies are required to prove the effect.
DHA also has a hand when it comes to immunity in terms of infection and inflammation. A review of supplements of DHA during pregnancy has seen that children who have a higher risk of developing an allergy by hereditary, the supplement can help in reducing the chances of it.
Hence, it can be concluded that a varied healthy diet is the best way to make sure that you get the required doses of nutrients. In general, fish should be a part of your daily diet when you are pregnant, as it is an excellent source of DHA and various other omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, vitamins, and protein.
Nevertheless, some predatory species of fish like swordfish and shark contain mercury which can be harmful to an unborn child when consumed during pregnancy. Thus, it is better to consume fishes which are safe for eating during pregnancy like tuna or salmon.