Taking a daily dose of DHA could help prevent preterm birth in women at risk. [Photo: Bigstock]

Omega-3 supplement could prevent pre-term births

26 October, 2016

Natural Health News — A new international analysis suggests that thousands of early preterm births – those at or before 34 weeks’ gestation – could be prevented if pregnant women supplemented with omega-3 DHA.

Analysis of two similar trials – one in the US and the other in the Australia – in which pregnant women took daily docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplements, found that both had found statistically significant reductions in early preterm birth.

Infants born very preterm often require lifesaving treatments and longer hospitalisations at birth and are at increased risk for additional hospitalisations in the first year of life – and that is in the developed world. Further, these infants are at risk for serious disability or death the earlier they are born.

“At present there is no effective method to prevent spontaneous early preterm birth,” said Susan Carlson, AJ Rice Professor of Nutrition at the University of Kansas Medical Center, and co-author of the analysis. “Our recent studies suggest that DHA could be a promising agent for reducing this critical public health problem.”

What you need to know

» An new analysis suggests that pregnant women who are at risk of preterm birth can reduce their risk by supplementing daily with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

» DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid which most of us need to obtain from our diets or supplements.

» Supplementing with 600-800mg daily was shown to reduce preterm birth rates significantly and was particularly effective for women at the highest risk.

Significant reductions in preterm birth

The two studies looked at low-, moderate- and high-risk births in mothers supplemented with DHA during pregnancy as compared to mothers taking a placebo. The researchers estimated that more than 106,000 high-risk early preterm births could be avoided in the US and about 1,100 could be prevented in Australia each year if pregnant women took daily supplements of the omega-3 fatty acid.

To put the numbers in perspective the researchers suggest that the findings suggest that early preterm births could be reduced to only 1.3% in Australia or 1.5% of births in the US a figure they say may represent the lowest rate for pre-term birth that can be achieved in any population.

A daily dose

The US and Australian studies supplemented mothers with 600 mg and 800 mg DHA per day respectively and this was found to be particularly effective for women at higher risk for early preterm birth.

DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that occurs naturally in cell membranes with the highest levels in brain cells. Humans and other mammals are able to make their own DHA from other fatty acids, but this is dependent on the quality of individual diets. Modern diets are low in DHA and most nutritionists advise topping up with supplements as the best way to ensure adequate levels.

Babies obtain DHA from their mother in utero and postnatally from human milk, but the amount received depends upon the mother’s own DHA status.

“US women typically consume less DHA than women in most of the developed world,” Carlson said noting that the intake of DHA in both the US and Australia is, for example, well below that reported by Japanese women.

The study was published in Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids.