By: Talking Nutrition Editors
Watch the interview with Dr. Kristen Finn, Lead Scientist for Early Life Nutrition at DSM, for exclusive expert insights on the role of DHA in supporting healthy, full-term pregnancies for expectant mothers.
Globally, 15 million babies are born preterm every year. Preterm birth rates worldwide range from 5% to 18% and average around 11% – and these figures continue to rise.6, 7, 8 Families in low- and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected, even though premature births are a growing problem in the developed world too. 9
As Dr. Finn explains, preterm birth is the leading cause of death in children under five years of age, with more than one million babies around the world dying each year due to problems associated with prematurity. 10 Even among survivors, there could be long-term consequences such as retinopathy of prematurity, chronic respiratory diseases and impaired neurodevelopment.11, 12
Most commonly derived from fatty fish, DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that has been linked to a range of maternal health benefits.
Touching on some of the clinical evidence for DHA’s role in supporting healthy pregnancies, Dr. Finn shares how several population cohort studies have reported associations between fish consumption before or during pregnancy and a reduced risk of preterm birth. For instance, one study of omega-3 fatty acid intake and preterm birth rates across 184 countries found that preterm birth rates decreased linearly as omega-3 fatty acid intake levels increased – up to a threshold of about 600mg omega-3 per day. 13
In addition, a 2018 Cochrane systematic review and meta-analysis of data from thousands of women determined that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation was effective in lowering the risk of preterm birth. Compared to a placebo, daily omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy significantly reduced the risk of preterm birth at less than 37 weeks gestation by 11% and early preterm birth at less than 34 weeks gestation by 42%. 14
Despite the significant benefits of omega-3s like DHA, 96% of the global population falls below the optimal intake range.15 Because DHA is mainly found in seafood, Dr. Finn points out that even a nutrient-dense diet does not always ensure an adequate nutritional intake. Concerns about mercury and other contaminants may also lead some women to consume less seafood during pregnancy.
Approximately 90% of pregnant women currently consume a prenatal vitamin during pregnancy, but DHA supplementation rates remain much lower. 16, 17 To help reduce the risk of preterm birth, prenatal supplements including sufficient levels of DHA could provide invaluable support.
Dr. Finn suggests that women can first make sure they have adequate DHA intake prior to becoming pregnant. Recent clinical trials have demonstrated that women with low DHA blood status early in pregnancy have a higher risk of preterm birth compared to those with adequate status. 18, 19, 20 Women of childbearing age – especially those trying to get pregnant – should consider DHA supplementation in the range of 250-600mg per day, which is consistent with expert recommendations and population level findings. 21, 22
Second, Dr. Finn advises that all pregnant women should take a prenatal supplement with at least 450-600mg DHA. 23, 24 The European Food Safety Authority recommends 450mg DHA plus EPA per day for pregnant women, but this recommendation is not specific to preterm birth risk reduction. 25 Most trials linking DHA intake with reduced preterm birth risk used doses somewhat higher than what is currently recommended. While the latest studies reported that even higher levels of 800-1000mg of DHA were effective, especially for women with low baseline DHA status. 26, 27
If a blood test or diet questionnaire confirms that an expectant mother has low omega-3 status or intake, she should consider an even higher dose of 1000mg DHA per day.
Reducing the risk of premature birth can help babies lead longer, healthier lives – and DHA has an important role to play. Many mothers – especially those with busy modern lifestyles – find it challenging to meet their nutritional requirements. To cater to their evolving needs, DSM offers a range of purpose-led maternal nutrition solutions, including end-to-end support to take your new product to market with speed.
DSM’s enhanced life’s™ portfolio features clinically studied DHA that delivers the essential building blocks needed to create a healthy future for mom and baby. life’sDHA® is 100% plant-based, environmentally sustainable with reduced impact on marine ecosystems, non-GMO and free from marine contaminants.
At DSM, it is our goal to help support healthy, full-term pregnancies for millions of pregnant women and their newborns around the world. Want to learn more about the role of maternal nutrition through the different stages of motherhood? Read our new whitepaper to learn about the maternal nutrition challenges faced by women worldwide and explore the latest science and nutrition solutions to meet prenatal, pregnancy and postnatal needs.
16 November 2022
5 min read
Stay up-to-date on the latest science, events and market trends
Follow us on your favorite social networks.