Taking omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy can reduce the risk of premature birth

A new review has found that pregnant women can reduce the risk of premature birth by taking omega-3 supplements. — Picture courtesy of RomarioIen / IStock.com via AFP-Relaxnews
A new review has found that pregnant women can reduce the risk of premature birth by taking omega-3 supplements. — Picture courtesy of RomarioIen / IStock.com via AFP-Relaxnews

LONDON, Nov 17 — A new review has found that taking omega-3 supplements during pregnancy could reduce the risk of premature births.

Published on Thursday, the new Cochrane Review set out to investigate whether omega‐3 long‐chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA), particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) found in fatty fish and fish oil supplements, play a role in reducing the risk of premature birth.

The Cochrane researchers looked at 70 randomised trials involving a total of 19,927 women which compared increasing omega‐3 LCPUFA intake through supplements and food to no omega-3 or taking a placebo.

The results showed that for pregnant women, increasing the daily intake of long-chain omega-3s lowered the risk of having a premature baby (defined as less than 37 weeks) by 11 per cent (from 134 per 1000 births to 119 per 1000 births) and lowers the risk of having an early premature baby (defined as less than 34 weeks) by 42 per cent (from 46 per 1000 to 27 per 1000 births).

Increasing omega-3 intake also appeared to reduce the risk of having a small baby (less than 2500g) by 10 per cent.

“We know premature birth is a critical global health issue, with an estimated 15 million babies born too early each year,” explained Associate Professor Philippa Middleton from Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth. “While the length of most pregnancies is between 38 and 42 weeks, premature babies are those born before the 37-week mark — and the earlier a baby is born, the greater the risk of death or poor health.”

The new research is an update of a previous Cochrane review published in 2006, which concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to support the use of omega-3 fatty acid supplements during pregnancy.

However, the researchers concluded from the new updated review that there is high quality evidence to suggest that omega-3 supplementation is an effective strategy for preventing preterm birth.

“There are not many options for preventing premature birth, so these new findings are very important for pregnant women, babies and the health professionals who care for them,” Associate Professor Middleton said. “We don’t yet fully understand the causes of premature labour, so predicting and preventing early birth has always been a challenge.”

“It’s worth noting though that many supplements currently on the market don’t contain the optimal dose or type of omega-3 for preventing premature birth,” added Associate Professor Middleton. “Our review found the optimum dose was a daily supplement containing between 500 and 1000 milligrams (mg) of long-chain omega-3 fats (containing at least 500mg of DHA) starting at 12 weeks of pregnancy.”

“Ultimately, we hope this review will make a real contribution to the evidence base we need to reduce premature births, which continue to be one of the most pressing and intractable maternal and child health problems in every country around the world.” — AFP-Relaxnews

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