Low omega-3 in pregnancy linked to preterm birth

By Hollie Ewers on 09 August 2018 Premature Birth Pregnancy Supplements Research

According to new research, low concentrations of certain long chain fatty acids may be a strong risk factor for preterm birth.

The study published in EBioMedicine suggests pregnant women who had low plasma levels of long chain fatty acids in their first and second trimesters were at a significantly higher risk of early preterm birth compared with women who had higher levels of these fatty acids. 

The researchers examined data from the Danish National Birth Cohort, a nationwide study that follows 96,000 children in Denmark through questionnaires and registry linkages. 

They analysed blood samples from 376 women who gave birth prior to 34 weeks’ gestation between 1996 and 2003 and 348 women who had a full-term birth. All of the women gave blood samples during their first and second trimesters of pregnancy.

Analysis of the blood samples showed that women who were in the lowest quintile of EPA+DHA serum levels – with levels of 1.6% or less – had a 10 times higher risk of early preterm birth when compared with women in the three highest quintiles, whose EPA+DHA levels were 1.8% or higher. Women in the second lowest quintile had a 2.7 times higher risk compared with women in the three highest quintiles.

The findings suggest that, among pregnant women with low levels of EPA+DHA, eating more fish or taking a fish oil supplement could potentially lower the risk of preterm birth. 

Lead author and adjunct professor of nutrition at Harvard Chan School and head of the Centre for Fetal Programming at Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, Sjurdur Olsen, said: ‘At a time when many pregnant women are hearing messages encouraging them to avoid intake of fish altogether due to mercury content, our results support the importance of ensuring adequate intake of long chain omega-3 fatty acids in pregnancy.’ 

However, the authors warned that broad generalisations about the findings may be limited due to the fact that it was conducted in Denmark, where preterm birth rates are low. 

Co-author Andrew Thorne-Lyman, an associate research scientist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said: ‘Our findings are consistent with the results of most randomised trials of long chain omega-3 fatty acid supplements in pregnancy and support the importance of ensuring adequate intake of these nutrients during pregnancy, either through fish intake or supplements, to help prevent early preterm birth.’
EPA+DHA is found in cold-water fish such as Atlantic mackerel, anchovies, salmon, and tuna and also in cod and haddock.

Read the full paper here.