Fish oil taken during pregnancy has questionable effect

Fish Oil

Fish oil may or may not be helpful to take during pregnancy, but for the most part it doesn't hurt. Image: Flickr / zimpenfish / CC-BY

In a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, the correlation of fish oil with smarter babies is questioned. The study of almost 2,400 women lasted for more than four years. The results suggested some positive effects of fish oil but nothing conclusive.

The hypothesis of fish oil

Some observational studies of pregnant women taking fish oil have suggested that it may reduce postpartum depression and increase brain development in babies. Fish oil has been extensively marketed with these claims, with some supplements costing the equivalent of a no fax payday loan. Omega 3 fatty acids, such as DHA, are the fourth most common supplement taken in the United States. DHA may also help decrease blood pressure, decrease heart disease and lower blood sugar in healthy individuals.

The results of fish oil pregnancy study

The four-year, 2,399 participant study found that in healthy women with normal pregnancies, fish oil “will actually not give you a huge benefit in terms of neurodevelopmental outcomes and reducing depressive symptoms.” Using fish oil during pregnancy, however, did show a 4 percent reduction in postpartum depression in mothers previously diagnosed with depression. DHA, the active chemical in fish oil, was also found to decrease pre-term births by a small percentage. On the other side, however, pregnant women who took fish oil were more likely to need labor induction or Cesarean section.

The difficulty of studying pregnant women

The biggest difficulty in getting extensive and accurate studies on pregnancy is the possibility of things going wrong. Researchers do not want to put unborn children at risk with potentially dangerous drugs. Therefore, most studies of pregnant women and their children are based on observation. For fish oil, this means that most studies are observational. Women who tend to take fish oil are also more likely to be health-conscious, meaning that there could be several factors involved in singling out one chemical that improves or harms health. In the end, taking fish oil does not appear to have negative effects on a pregnant mother or her baby, and a well-balanced diet that includes fish is always better.


Wall Street Journal
Journal of the American Medical Association

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