Just how beneficial is fish oil during pregnancy? MH finds out.
WORDS RACHEL LIM
Ever wondered what fish oil is? It is a form of fatty acid that is derived from the tissues of oily fish. It comprises of mainly omega-3 fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). So, what are its potential benefits? Read on to find out.
Improved Visual and Brain Development of Infants
DHA is required for the development of the central nervous system and grey matter of the brain, including the growth of the extensive network of nerve cells and the myelin sheath that insulates the nerves. DHA is also required for the development of retina in the eyes of foetuses and infants, as well as visual function throughout life.
In a clinical study by Van Houwelingen, A.C.et al. published in the British Journal of Nutrition, findings revealed that it is possible to interfere with the DHA acid status at birth.
Infants born to mothers supplemented with fish oil in the last trimester of pregnancy start with a better DHA status at birth, which may be beneficial to neonatal neurodevelopment.
Reduction in Subsequent Infant Allergy
According to a randomised, controlled trial by Dustan, J. A. et al. published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, fish oil supplementation in pregnancy modifies neonatal allergen-specific immune responses and clinical outcomes in infants at high risk of atopy. Atopy is a syndrome characterised by a tendency to be hyperallergic. A person with atopy typically presents with one or more of the following: eczema, allergic rhinitis or allergic asthma.
Amongst the women who participated in the trial, the group receiving fish oil supplementation achieved significantly higher proportions of anti-inflammatory omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in neonatal erythrocyte membranes compared with the control group. All neonatal cytokine responses to all allergens tended to be lower in the fish oil group. Infants in the fish oil group were three times less likely to have a positive skin prick test to egg at one year of age.
Decreased Preterm Labour and Higher Birth Weight
The high birth weights and long duration of pregnancy in the Faroe Islands led Olsen, S. F. et al. to investigate if a high intake of marine-fat-derived n-3 fatty acids might prolong pregnancy by shifting the balance of production of prostaglandins involved in parturition. Their study published in one of the world’s oldest and best known medical journals, The Lancet, revealed that fish-oil supplementation in the third trimester seems to prolong pregnancy without detrimental effects on the growth of the foetus or the course of labour.
Choosing the Right Fish Oil
Always ensure the quality of your fish oil by looking at the following:
What are the quality standards used by the manufacturer? There are several quality standards such as the Norwegian Medicinal Standard, that exist for fish oils. These standards ensure quality by setting maximum allowances for toxins.
Does the fish oil smell fishy? Fish oils only smell unpleasant when the oil has become rancid. A high-quality fish oil supplement should not smell fishy.
Does the fish oil taste fishy? A high-quality fish oil supplement should not taste fishy. Try to avoid fish oil that has really strong artificial flavours added to them as they may be trying to hide any fishy odour of rancid oil.