Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Maternal, Fetal, Infant and Child Wellbeing

Ellen Mozurkewich; Deborah R Berman; Julie Chilimigras


Expert Rev of Obstet Gynecol. 2010;5(1):125-138. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Many pregnant women avoid dietary fish, the premier source of omega-3 fats, owing to fear of industrial contaminants. This concern, combined with a Western diet relatively deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, has created an imbalance of omega-3 compared with omega-6 fats. This imbalance may lead to a proinflammatory state that contributes to a number of complications, including preterm birth, pregnancy-induced hypertension and postpartum depression. Fetal deficiency of omega-3 fats may place infants at risk for allergic disease and suboptimum neuropsychiatric development. Although a number of studies of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation are suggestive of benefit, other studies have not shown a benefit. More research is needed to elucidate the risks and benefits of fish consumption and dietary omega-3 supplementation in pregnancy.


Since the mid-19th Century, major dietary changes have occurred in the industrial world. There has been a significant decrease in vital micronutrients, such as omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, and an increase in other fats, most notably omega-6 fatty acids.[1] Prior to industrialization, humans obtained a significant proportion of dietary fat from fish, wild game and leaves. The modern diet, emphasizing grains, dairy products and grain-fed meats, has replaced these traditional food sources. As a result of these changes, there have been increases in total fat, saturated fat and linoleic acid.[2] Owing to the differing biochemical derivatives of these polyunsaturated fats, the modern diet has been observed to be relatively proinflammatory. Inflammation may play an important role in a number of pregnancy-related morbidities, including preterm labor, preterm premature rupture of membranes, chorioamnionitis, cerebral palsy and depression during pregnancy and postpartum. This review summarizes existing knowledge regarding dietary omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA) and their current and potential applications in these aforementioned and other pregnancy-related morbidities.


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