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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Two Studies Recommend DHA Supplementation During Pregnancy

By Michael McBurney

The last 3 months of pregnancy is a period of rapid increase in brain volume of an infant. It is a time when docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) accumulates in the brain and eye of the developing child. Because humans are extremely inefficient at converting α-linolenic acid (ALA) to DHA, it is important for women, especially when pregnant or lactating, eat seafood or use dietary supplements to obtain adequate amounts of DHA.

The Kansas University DHA Outcomes Study (KUDOS) examined the effect of supplementing 600 mg DHA per day (vs placebo) during pregnancy on the risk of early preterm births. In an analysis of 197 mother-infant dyads, Shireman and colleagues report DHA supplementation produced a hospital cost saving of $US 1,678 per infant. After adjusting for the estimated cost of the DHA supplement and slightly higher maternal care cost in the DHA treatment group, the net savings per dyad was $US 1,484 per infant. Extrapolating to nearly 4 million US deliveries per year, the authors conclude that DHA supplementation during the second and third trimester could save $6 billion in US health care costs.

This study comes on the heels of an Australian study reporting a $AU 92 savings per singleton pregnancy with DHA supplementation. Ahmed and colleagues estimated that the Australian public hospital system could save between $AU 15-51.

With >81% of Americans have suboptimal EPA+DHA status, the question posed by Harry Rice, VP of regulatory and scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) to Stephen Daniells of Nutraingredients is so very compelling.

“Imagine what the savings or return on investment would be if you considered the potential for EPA/DHA to decrease disability adjusted life years?”

Main Citation

Shireman TI, Kerling EH, Gajewski BJ, Colombo J, Carlson SE. Docosahexaenoic acid supplementation (DHA) and the return on investment for pregnancy outcomes. 2016 PLEFA doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2016.05.008

Other Citations

Svennerholm L, Vanier MT. The distribution of lipids in the human nervous system. II. Lipid composition of human fetal and infant brain. 1972 Brain Res doi: 10.1016/0006-8993-(72)90652-X

Morse NL. Benefits of docosahexaenoic acid, folic acid, vitamin D and iodine on foetal and infant brain development and function following maternal supplementation during pregnancy and lactation. 2012 Nutrients doi: 10.3390/nu4070799

Plourde M, Cunnane SC. Extremely limited synthesis of long chain polyunsaturates in adults: implications for their dietary essentiality and use as supplements. 2007 Appl Physiol Nutr Metab doi: 10.1139/H07-034

Ahmed S, Makrides M, Sim N, McPhee A, Quinlivan J, Gibson R, Umberger W. Analysis of hospital cost outcome of DHA-rich fish-oil supplementation in pregnancy: Evidence from a randomized controlled trial. 2015 PLEFA doI: 10.1016/j.plefa.2015.08.002

Murphy RA, Yu EA, Ciappio ED, Mehta S, McBurney MI. Suboptimal plasma long-chain n-3 concentrations are common among adults in the United States, NHANES 2003-2004. 2015 Nutrients doi: 10.3390/nu7125534