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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Pregnant? Did you know Maternal Omega-3 Status may Affect a Child’s Development?

By Michael McBurney

Pregnancy is one of the most important developmental periods of life. During pregnancy, mothers transfer nutrients from their circulation to the baby by way of the placenta. The capacity to provide essential nutrients (vitamins, minerals, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA)) depends upon their availability in maternal circulation and body stores. When nutritional status is assessed during pregnancy, the information can be used to determine its effect on the child’s development.

Vidakovic and colleagues measured maternal LCPUFA plasma phospholipid concentrations in the 3nd trimester (4,455 women) and associated these with blood pressure measurements taken in the offspring at 6y of age. Higher maternal n-3 LCPUFA concentrations, specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), were associated with lower systolic blood pressure in children. Higher n-6:n-3 ratios were associated with significantly higher systolic blood pressure in children.

The average plasma eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and DHA concentrations (EPA+DHA) among these women was 5.3% (weight %). In a study with pregnant women living in the UK have similar plasma DHA+EPA concentrations, maternal n-3 LCPUFA concentrations were associated with increased lean body mass  in children at 4 and 6 years of age. Moon and colleagues concluded that higher maternal n-6 LCPUFA status during pregnancy might increase the likelihood of childhood adiposity.

DHA synthesis from α-linolenic acid (ALA) in the body is inhibited by diets high in n-6 fatty acids. During the past century, there has been a dramatic increase in the consumption of n-6 LCPUFA, primarily as soybean oil which has likely decreased blood and tissue concentrations of EPA and DHA.  

These studies, and others, suggest that low circulating n-3 fatty acid concentrations during pregnancy, exacerbated by high n-6 LCPUFA intakes, may negatively impact child development.

Main Citation

Vidakovic AJ, Gishti O, Steenweg-de Graaff J, Williams MA, Duijts L, Felix JF, Hofman A, Tiemeier H, Jaddoe VWV, Gaillard R. Higher maternal plasma n-3 PUFA and lower n-6 PUFA concentrations in pregnancy are associated with lower childhood systolic blood pressure. 2015 J Nutr doi: 10.3945/nj.115.210823

Other Citations

Bauman DE, Currie WB. Partitioning of nutrients during pregnancy and lactation: A review of mechanisms involving homeostasis and homeorhesis. 1980 J Dairy Sci doi: 10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(80)83111-0

Moon RJ, Harvey NC, Robinson SM, Ntani G, Davies JH, Inskip HM, Godfrey KM, Dennison EM, Calder PC, Cooper C, and the SWS Study Group. Maternal plasma polyunsaturated fatty acid status in late pregnancy is associated with offspring body composition in childhood. 2012 JCEM doi: 10.1210/jc.2012.2482

Gibson RA, Neumann MA, Lien EL, Boyd KA, Tu WC. Docosahexaenoic acid synthesis from alpha-linolenic acid is inhibited by diets high in polyunsaturated fatty acids. 2013 PLEFA doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2012.04.003

Blasbalg TL, Hibbeln JR, Ramsden CE, Majchrzak SF, Rawlings RR. Changes in consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the United States during the 20th century. 2011 Am J Clin Nutr doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.006643

Much D, Brunner S, Vollhardt C, Schmid D, Sedlmeier E-M, Bruder M, Heimburg E, Bartke N, Boehm G, Bader BL, Amman-Gassner U, Hauner H. Effect of dietary intervention to reduce the n-6/n-3 acid ratio on maternal and fetal fatty acid profile and its relation to offspring growth and body composition at 1 year of age. 2012 EJCN doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2013.02