DHA & EPA
Omega-3 Fatty Acids – DHA & EPA – Support both Mom and Baby
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty layers of cold-water fish and shellfish, plant and nut oils, English walnuts, flaxseed, algae oils, and fortified foods. You can also get omega-3s as supplements. Food and supplement sources of these fatty acids differ in the forms and amounts they contain.
There are the two main types of omega-3 fatty acids:
- Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These are plentiful in fish and shellfish. Algae often provides only DHA.1
- Short-chain omega-3 fatty acids are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). These are found in plants, such as flaxseed. Though beneficial, ALA omega-3 fatty acids have less potent health benefits than EPA and DHA. You’d have to eat a lot to gain the same benefits as you do from fish.1
Maternal nutrition guidelines have always stressed a diet including sufficient caloric and protein requirements, but recently fatty acids have also been deemed important.2 Fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA supplementation during pregnancy has been associated with multiple benefits for infants. Studies have shown that EPA and DHA are important for proper fetal development, including cognitive (brain), retinal (eye), and immune function. During pregnancy, your placenta transfers nutrients, including DHA, from you to your developing baby.
In addition, EPA and DHA supplementation during pregnancy has been associated with longer gestation and lower incidence of low birth weight. In 2005, preterm births accounted for 12.7% of all births in the United States, and these births increase the likelihood of health complications.3 Carrying a baby to term is very important because prematurity is the cause of various infant diseases and can lead to death; preterm delivery is an underlying factor for 85% of the deaths of normally formed infants.20
EPA is also a natural stool softener; this is a positive thing because pregnancy can cause constipation for many women.12,21
How Much DHA Do You Need?
The amount of omega-3 fatty acids your developing baby receives is correlated with the amount you consume, so it is essential that you have adequate nutrition.4 The National Institutes of Health recommends at least 300 mg of DHA daily for pregnant and lactating women. The 2010 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services dietary guidelines recommend that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should “consume 8 to 12 ounces of seafood per week from a variety of seafood types.”5 Ingesting 8 to 12 ounces of seafood per week, depending on the type of fish, is equivalent to ˜300 mg to 900 mg of EPA+DHA per day. Unfortunately, this amount is not met by most mothers in the United States and Canada, which means that their developing babies may not be receiving adequate amounts of these vital nutrients in the womb.6 Thus, supplementing the diet with a fish oil-containing prenatal supplement may help overcome some of these nutritional gaps.
Fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA have been demonstrated to support:7-19
- Cognitive development
- Development of visual acuity
- Fetal growth and development
- Improved sleep patterns
EPA and DHA supplementation can:
- Replenish DHA depleted during pregnancy and lactation
- Provide critical nutrients essential to pregnancy
- Help naturally soften stools
- Potentially help mom manage the “baby blues”
Which Foods Contain DHA?
DHA is found naturally in fish, eggs, and meats. Non-marine food sources that contain DHA include nuts, seeds, whole grains, and dark leafy vegetables. Oily fish, such as mackerel, herring, salmon, and trout, typically contain 10 times to 100 times more DHA than non-marine food sources.19
However, women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant need to be extremely careful when consuming marine food sources that contain DHA. Many of these fish contain high levels of mercury, and high levels of mercury can be toxic for both pregnant women and developing babies.
Prenatal Vitamins with DHA
One way pregnant women can help meet their daily DHA intake goals and cover nutritional gaps, without risking high mercury consumption, is to take a daily prenatal vitamin with DHA. The Prenate® Vitamin Family offers nutritional support for mothers and their babies for every step of pregnancy and after delivery.
Below are links to learn more about the prenatal vitamins with DHA that the Prenate® Vitamin Family offers:
Ask your doctor if a Prenate® Vitamin is right for you.